Alabama Sierra Club Protests Forest Service Proposal to Close Lake Chinnabee Campground

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The Lake Chinnabee Campground, closed? In leaf season? Why?

By Glynn Wilson

The Alabama Sierra Club is protesting the state leadership of the U.S. Forest Service with an official letter opposing a proposal to close the Lake Chinnabee Campground in the Talladega National Forest and only allow Day Use in one of the best, most beautiful primitive campgrounds in the state and the country.

We broke the story on the decision back in November after visiting the area one more time to obtain photographs and video footage of a campground the Forest Service says is not worth repairing and reopening after a 100-year flood event caused minor damage in May.

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As a result of that visit — on a Saturday in the Autumn leaf color season when the Pinhoti 100 hiking racers were passing through and many families were visiting the area from Anniston, Oxford, Birmingham and other points north and south — the U.S. Forest Service this week issued a certified ticket to me demanding $125 for “entering an area posted closed under a valid closure order,” even though there were also signs posted indicating “Walk-In Use Invited.”

Do you, dear readers, think I should pay the fine? Or fight it in court? Stay tuned.

On a recent camping and hiking trip into the Lake Chinnabee Area, we discovered that the campground appears fine and should have been open during the fall leaf color tourist season this year. The federal government, taxpayers and other local businesses are losing money now because of the Forest Service’s decision, done without public input. The agency opened up a comment period in mid-November — six months after closing the campground — to make the closing permanent and allow for public comments, but the deadline was set just five days before Christmas.

Apparently the agency is not even planning to consider a public hearing or an official environmental assessment – much less a transparent cost benefit analysis. We have asked for data on the number of visitors to the recreation area and campground, along with other Forest Service recreation areas and campgrounds in the state, but the agency’s leadership has refused to make the public information available to the press.

If the public does not strongly protest this closing, is it possible Forest Supervisor Steve Lohr will resurrect his plan to open up the area to natural gas fracking next year and propose placing a fracking pad on the former site of this campground?

We exposed this plan in a major investigative news feature on Earth Day this year, then blasted it out of the water in late April.

Here is the full text of the Sierra Club letter –

U. S. Forest Service
Talladega National Forest
1001 North Street
Talladega, AL 35160

Attn: Gloria Nielsen, District Ranger

Dear Ms. Nielsen:

The Alabama Chapter of the Sierra Club, representing about 3,000 members in the state, hereby protests your unilateral decision to close the Lake Chinnabee Campground in the Talladega National Forest.

This beautiful campground is one of the few primitive campgrounds in the state where citizens can enjoy nature and the outdoors without street lights and other accoutrements of modern civilization. To close it and deny public access is a violation of your federal charter and the public trust placed in you by the citizens of Alabama.

In your notice, you cite several reasons to change the area to day-use only based upon “better data on the flood susceptibility of the camping area based on mapping by URS Corporation.” Unfortunately, the public has not had an opportunity to review or comment on the data.

Fortunately, there are multiple simple and inexpensive ways to warn those who are within the park, whether for day-use or overnight camping, of changing weather conditions and increased risks of flash flooding. We would rather that instead of closing the campsite under all conditions that you consider routine monitoring of the weather by forest rangers during their routine rounds of the area in question. Could they not warn people when significant rain events are forecast, order evacuation of the campground, and close roads as needed to protect the public? During other times of the year, the campsite and trails would remain open.

Please reconsider the closing the Lake Chinnabee Campground. We would like to see increased public access, rather than more limited access, to the people’s forest. Please permit this beautiful site to remain available both to day-use and overnight camping.

Sincerely,
Margo S. Rebar
Chair, Alabama Chapter of the Sierra Club

The closing is also being protested by Jim Felder of the Alabama Scenic River Trail non-profit group.

Read his letter here:

http://blog.locustfork.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/ChinnabeeLetter2.jpg

Keep up with the latest information about this and add your voice to those who are coming to believe you cannot to trust the state leadership of the Forest Service in this state to represent the interests of citizens in Alabama by joining a Facebook page setup as Friends of Lake Chinnabee.

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Lake Chinnabee in Autumn: Kenny Walters

Read my letter here.

Read Kenny Walters’ letter here

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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