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Visitors enjoy a pleasant afternoon at Garden of the Gods.

HARRISBURG — The Shawnee National Forest is considering a $5 per-vehicle fee to visit six of its most popular sites. The funds collected would be used to help maintain them, according to Laura Lecher, the forest’s recreation, engineering and lands staff officer.

The $5 per-vehicle fee is proposed for the Garden of the Gods recreation area observation trail; the swimming beach at Pounds Hollow; the Johnson Creek recreation area boat launch; the Pomona boat launch on Cedar Lake; Little Grand Canyon trailhead and Bell Smith Springs interpretive site.

Funding for maintaining recreational sites has been flat to declining for the better part of a decade, Lecher said. The proposal has been under consideration for several years, she added.

In 2017, Shawnee began a review process of all 100 of its day-use sites. Officials examined how much it costs to maintain and operate them, including things such as trash pickup, grounds-keeping and maintenance of toilets, signage, internal roads, parking lots, fencing and trails.

“We have completed several significant projects at these sites in recent years, but the needs just keep growing, especially after the solar eclipse put southern Illinois and the Shawnee National Forest ‘on the map’ in 2017,” the Shawnee said in a news release on Thursday.

Day use fees are very common at other forests, Lecher said. “They are typically charged in the more developed sites, where there are a bunch of amenities that you can utilize when you visit there. That would be the same here. We’re only looking at six of our sites. Everything else across the forest is still free.”

Under the plan, frequent visitors would also have the option to purchase a $30 annual pass.

The proposal still has a number of hurdles to overcome before its implemented. At the earliest, the fees will go into effect next July. The Shawnee National Forest made the proposal public Thursday and will collect public feedback through early December, Lecher said. Forest service officials will consider whether adjustments to the proposal are necessary based on that public feedback. Then, a citizen’s advisory committee for the Forest Service’s eastern region will consider the proposal, most likely during a meeting next spring. The U.S. Forest Service’s regional forester has the final say on whether they go into effect.

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If implemented, this would be the first time the Shawnee National Forest has ever charged fees to visit day-use sites. The Shawnee turns 80 this year.

Additionally, the proposal calls for a small increase in camping fees for 13 campsites at the Pine Ridge Campground in the Pounds Hollow recreation area that offer electrical service. In 2014, forest officials installed electrical outlet pedestals at the Gallatin County campground, but the fee has not been adjusted since the addition of the amenity. Under the proposal, it would increase from $10 to $15 per night at the campsites that include an electrical hookup. The non-electric campsites will remain at $10.

The majority of funds collected at recreation sites, 95 percent, remain in the forest to operate, maintain and improve the facilities and programs at the recreation sites, as required by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which Congress passed in 2004.

The public is invited to share their comments on the proposal through Dec. 6.

The Shawnee National Forest plans to host several open house meetings across Southern Illinois in the upcoming months to allow interested individuals to ask questions and provide input.

Comments can also be submitted via mail or hand delivery to the Shawnee National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 50 Highway 145 South; Harrisburg, Illinois, 62946. Alternatively, comments can be emailed to mailroom_r9_shawnee@fs.fed.us.

Please put in subject line “Recreation Fee Proposal.” They can also be submitted through the comment form found on the forest website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/shawnee.

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molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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