In preparation for the eclipse, the U.S. Forest Service this week opened three additional campsites to accommodate visitors expected to flock to the Shawnee Forest this weekend.
Newly opened is Lake of Egypt, an existing campground with 34 primitive campsites cleared and reopened for the event; Oakwood Bottoms, where 15 campsites will be available for walk-in camping; and Pennant Bar Grasslands, a managed wildlife habitat which yielded 55 primitive sites when mowed.
Chad Deaton, district recreation and lands program manager for the Shawnee National Forest, said the USFS thought the Pennant Bar Grassland site would make a great viewing site for the eclipse as it contains a large field for parking and viewing the event.
Deaton also said campsites are about 35 percent full, but that number could change rapidly as people roll into town.
“I don’t think we really have any idea of how many to expect, we are just doing what we can to provide some additional camping space. I recommend people visit our website before they visit to get a lay of the land and check to see what spaces are still available,” Deaton said.
All campgrounds are first-come, first-served, so that means no reserving of sites. To find out what’s available for eclipse camping and viewing, visit the USFS website.
Leave no trace
Once people determine where they are going to camp, it is also important for them to know how to be responsible when they camp.
"The entire Shawnee Forest operates under the principle of ‘leave no trace,'" said USFS Visitor Services Officer Linda Hauser. "We want visitors to have fun, but in the end, we ask them to be like Bigfoot, where no one would have ever known you were there.”
Hauser said what is most important is for people to plan ahead and prepare.
“Bring everything you think you will need. Food, water, bug spray, sunscreen, protective clothing, hats, lanterns, matches and first aid supplies,” Hauser said.
Most developed campgrounds charge a fee and have some amenities, such as picnic tables, lantern posts, grills, parking spots, potable drinking water, dumpsters and toilets.
Dispersed camping is free in the Shawnee, but offers no amenities outside of portable toilets and dumpsters.
“If you anticipate primitive camping, you must be sure to bring your own water with you,” Hauser said.
Also suggested are garbage bags, zip-close bags and toilet paper — all of which, Hauser said, should be removed from the campsite at the end of a visit.
“If you pack it in, pack it out," Hauser said. "This includes anything biodegradable. It might seem logical to toss an apple core into the woods, or to bury toilet paper in the ground, but even that small level of waste has a negative impact on the forest."
Hauser said attending to personal hygiene while in the woods should be done at least 150 feet from any water source. For more information and guidelines, visit the Leave No Trace website.
Hauser also recommended visiting one of the Shawnee Forest Service offices to see what sites are still available and to get a map.
“To better serve our visitors prior to the eclipse, Shawnee offices located in Harrisburg, Vienna and Jonesboro will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19, and Sunday, Aug. 20,” Hauser said.
Use local firewood and minimize campfire impacts
Once you know where and how you are going to camp, it’s also important to understand best practices for firewood gathering and use.
Shawnee National Forest Silviculturist Justin Dodson said the USFS asks that people get whatever firewood they are going to use from a local source. Transporting firewood across state lines could bring harmful non-native pests to the forest.
“The best way to get firewood is to gather it near your campsite. To do that legally, we require a $20 permit which is easily obtainable at the Harrisburg, Jonesboro and Vienna offices. Firewood permits must be obtained in person,” Dodson said.
Keeping that campfire safe and contained is also of utmost importance when camping.
“We would prefer people use camp stoves if they can, but in the event that they build a campfire, we recommend letting the fire burn down to ash, and checking before leaving the campsite to make sure nothing is smoldering, and that the ashes are cool to the touch,” Dodson said.
Regional Shawnee National Forest Headquarters can be reached at the following numbers: Harrisburg 618-253-7114, Vienna 618-658-2111 and Jonesboro 618-833-8576.