Some of the day-use areas on the Ouachita National Forest that were closed at the end of March due to the COVID-19 pandemic have reopened to the public, but not all of the areas' restrooms are open.
Terence R. Peck, public affairs deputy team leader for the Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, said the areas reopened Friday, May 22, but visitors can "expect some restrooms to be closed."
Peck said visitors should check the ONF website to see which areas, and which restrooms, are currently open. Visit https://bit.ly/2ZXUzsf for more information.
Peck said visitors can do a variety of things in day-use areas, such as having a picnic, going for walks and swimming, but they "just can't stay overnight."
As the pandemic is still in effect, Peck said "we do recommend they follow (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines," which include wearing masks and keeping a safe social distance of 6 feet between visitors.
However, he said masks are optional for guests, noting, "It is up to them if they want to wear a mask," and "social distancing is up to the visitors."
The trails in the forest are open, but the campgrounds remain closed. "We are working with local state officials to get campgrounds open," Peck said, but in order to do so, they will need personal protective equipment "for workers to clean restrooms."
Peck said they do not have a timeline for when they will get the protective equipment they need to reopen the campgrounds. He said that unless a campground has received storm damage, they should be ready to reopen once they have the equipment.
If a day-use area is crowded, Peck recommended guests find another area to visit. He said he also wanted to remind visitors to follow the Leave No Trace policy in the forest, which means leaving no trash and to "respect the wildlife."
Visitors, Peck said, also need to remember to stay safe while visiting the forest. "Look at the weather," he said, before visiting. He warned against visiting the forest if there are possibilities of thunderstorms or flash floods.
As more areas in the forest reopen, Peck said the information will be posted on their website and on their Facebook page.
Open recreation areas and sites include the following:
• Acorn Shooting Range.
• Bear Mountain Shooting Range.
• Brushy Hollow Shooting Range.
• Buck Ridge Shooting Range.
• Jessieville Shooting Range.
• Kelly Branch Shooting Range.
• Kiamichi Shooting Range.
• Oden Shooting Range.
• Pigeon Roost Shooting Range.
• Reed Mountain Shooting Range.
• Wolf Pen Gap Trail Complex -- Closed when heavy rain is predicted.
Recreation areas and sites that are open with limited amenities include the following:
• Dragover Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Fourche Mountain Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Friendship Trail (area open -- restroom closed).
• Fulton Branch Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Hollis CCC Interpretive Site (area open -- restroom closed).
• Horsethief Springs Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Iron Springs Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Knoppers Ford Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Old Military Road Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Peeler Gap Shooting Range (area open -- restroom closed).
• Pipe Springs Day Use (are open -- restroom closed).
• Presbyterian Falls Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Rich Mountain Tower Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• River Bluff Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Rocky Shoals Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Shirley Creek Day Use (area open -- restroom closed).
• Winding Stairs Trailhead on the Caddo-Womble (area open -- restroom closed).
Recreation areas and sites that remain closed include the following:
• Albert Pike Day Use Area.
• Charlton Campground.
• Charlton Group Campground.
• Crystal Campground.
• Dutch Creek CCC Day Use.
• Jack Creek.
• Little Missouri Falls Day Use Area.
• Camp Clearfork.
• Lake Sylvia Campground.
• South Fourche Campground.
• Bear Creek Equestrian Campground.
• Bard Springs Campground (storm damage).
• R.S. Kerr Arboretum & Nature Center.
• Little Pines Campground.
• Shady Lake Campground.
• Shady Lake Group Campground.
• Billy Creek Campground.
• Cedar Lake Campground (tentative date June 5).
• Cedar Lake Horse Camp (tentative date June 5).
• Winding Stair Campground, including the Backpacker Camp.
• Mena Visitor Information Station.
The following sites are open but have reduced services, which includes restrooms being unavailable:
• Hickory Nut Mountain Day Use.
• Emerald Vista Day Use.
• Billy Creek Day Use.
• Big Brushy Day Use.
"Visitors are primarily responsible for their own safety," the ONF said on its website. "Keep in mind, trails and roads may be open for use, but please recreate responsibly and follow public health guidelines regarding social distancing while you recreate in National Forests. Law enforcement and search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 issues. High-risk activities such as rock climbing or motorized activities that increase your chance of injury or distress should be avoided."
Local on 05/29/2020