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Tim Jones, Piney District Ranger for the Ozark National Forest, said the U.S. Forest Service has no intention to close popular campgrounds.

In our Dec. 29 column, we noted proposed changes for managing campgrounds at Haw Creek Falls, Alum Cove and Bayou Bluffs recreation areas. Instead of proposing to close the campgrounds outright, it looked to us as if the Forest Service intended to let the campgrounds deteriorate from lack of maintenance until they become unsafe for public use, at which point they could be closed in the interest of public safety.

That is not the case, Jones said, adding that the primary changes proposed for Haw Creek Falls would actually increase public access. Haw Creek Falls has been closed during the winter for the last seven years, Jones said. He proposes opening it year round and eliminating the modest use fee that hardly anyone ever pays anyway.

"That's a very hard thing to enforce, and compliance is extremely low," Jones said. "We go months with no fees to collect, but we still make weekly trips there. My goal would be to remove the gate so it remains open year round, not to look for reasons to close it."

There's not much at Haw Creek Falls to fall into such disrepair as to pose a public safety hazard, Jones said. The toilet house is built very solidly. The only other structures are picnic tables, which are also very sturdy. All that's left are grills, lantern posts and metal fire rings.

Jones said that groups like the Ozark Highlands Trail Society have expressed interest in helping maintain Haw Creek Falls, and that the Piney District welcomes their participation.

Jones also said that the Piney District is shifting resources to areas that have greater use potential. Haw Creek Falls, Jones said, cannot be improved or developed any more than it already is because of its location. It's in a deep hollow that's hemmed in by one large creek and several smaller creeks. It can't grow, and more amenities can't be added.

"You've got an area there that is out of room," Jones said. "We've talked about different ways to improve that area, but any type of additional work pushes parking more to the creek. Over time, people want move vehicles closer and closer and closer to the creek. We want to make sure there's a good buffer for protection of the stream course."

Instead, the Forest Service has applied available resources to improving more popular, more heavily used campgrounds like the one at Richland Creek Recreation Area. We readily concede that Richland Creek has been converted from a rather seedy place to a showcase.

We asked Jones why the south camping loop at Fairview Campground was closed, and if it might be reopened in the future. The south loop was closed about 20 years ago. Jones has been in the Piney District for 61/2 years. He said he doesn't know the history that led to closing the camp loop, but he said the development of Rotary Ann Recreation Area in northern Pope County greatly reduced use at Fairview. Rotary Ann, with its breathtaking vistas, modern bathrooms and picnic area, is only about 6 miles south of Fairview.

Fairview has been reduced to a trailhead on the Ozark Highlands Trail with a few campsites that through-hikers mostly use. There is no tent camping at Rotary Ann.

Jones said that the Forest Service is also trying to adapt campgrounds to modern use patterns. Campers used to stay at public campgrounds for extended periods, Jones said. Nowadays, visits are brief. Also, some visitors use them as bases from which they can visit other areas within 30-50 miles.

"We want the public to know that the National Forest wants provide a wide range of options of how people recreate," Jones said. "We offer a really unique spot to come with a wide range of more rustic areas. That's what we've been doing at Haw Creek for many many years, and what we want to continue doing."

Jones conveyed a sincere appreciation for the Piney District, its resources and its history. He also seems to appreciate the Ozark National Forest's recreational value. On the balance, the proposals for the three campgrounds appear to offer greater access at best, and to be neutral at worst.

Sports on 01/09/2020

Print Headline: Future of campgrounds is safe

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