U.S. Forest Service Defies Public Comments, Closes Lake Chinnabee Campground Permanently

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U.S. Attorney Dismisses Charges Against Editor Glynn Wilson for Allegedly Entering Posted Area

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The Lake Chinnabee Campground: Glynn Wilson [More Photos]

By Glynn Wilson –

After considering public comments, mostly against the closing of one of the best little primitive campgrounds in the state and the country, the Talladega Alabama division of the U.S. Forest Service has made the decision to close the Lake Chinnabee Campground permanently.

Even though this decision was opposed by the Alabama Sierra Club, the Alabama Scenic River Trail non-profit group and others, Talladega District Ranger Gloria R. Nielsen recently announced the permanent closure anyway.

The Lake Chinnabee Reaction Area will reopen annually from sunrise to sunset daily from March 1 through November 30 each year, according to the press release announcing the campground’s closing.

The decision was made due to some flooding in the area and campground during a heavy rain event on May 18, 2013.

“(The) Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area is loved by many people because of its beauty, serenity, and peacefulness,” Nielsen said in the letter announcing the campground’s closing. “The Forest Service is responsible for trying to reduce high risks at developed recreation sites where we provide oversight and monitor public safety. Our goal is to provide the safest facility possible for Forest visitors. The only way to ensure public safety is to not allow overnight camping in a designated flash flood zone.”

By way of partially responding to some of the public comments suggesting alternatives to closing the campground, the Forest Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, detailed what happened on May 18 and indicated why it rejected suggested alternatives.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning at 3:15 a.m. that day. The first 911 call that visitors were located at Lake Chinnabee was received at 3:47 a.m.

“Unfortunately, the flash flood event was not predicted in advance by the National Weather Service or other meteorologists,” Nielsen said. “We do not have Forest Service employees patrolling after sunset; and if we were alerted of the flash flood event, it would take us a minimum of one hour or more to notify visitors.”

She also said there is no Internet or cell phone coverage at Lake Chinnabee, “which makes it a high risk area to visitors.”

She indicated it is unknown whether the use of portable, battery operated radios to access weather reports is a way to alert visitors, “but in this case it would have been little benefit.”

Flash Flood Area signs have been posted at Lake Chinnabee since 2010, she said, when it was determined the recreation area was in a flash flood zone. The federal Forest Service had issued a policy directive requiring all recreation areas within a flash flood zone to delineate floodplains.

The government paid the URS Corporation to draft a floodplain delineation map, which was sent to the regional office in Atlanta, Georgia on May 29, 2013, just days after this flash flood event. The maps reflect the now known high water marks. (The map has still not been released to the public, nor has the cost of the study been released to the press).

In the public comments, Nielsen indicated, they received questions about the spillway and access road at Lake Chinnabee, and whether they could be modified to prevent flooding. In response, she said the dam is a solid concrete structure and spillway that allows water from the lake to flow over the top. She did not address whether it could be modified to enhance the release of water to the creek that drains the lake when it overflows.

She said the access road meets Forest Service standards and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials standards for low volume roads, but she did not address whether the road could be raised by the boat launch to further prevent flooding.

More than 99.9 percent of the Talladega Ranger District, totaling about 115,000 acres, is open to public use at all times, she said, primarily via foot travel.

“Visitors may camp anywhere in the national forest outside developed recreation areas at any time, except during hunting season when they must stay in a designated hunter camp, camping area or get a camping permit from our office,” she said. “Visitors will still be able to hike, canoe, bird watch, fish, observe nature, have weddings, observe fall colors and wildflowers, visit Devil’s Den and any number of activities that they participate in while visiting the area. The only activity limited, which was allowed before, is overnight camping.”

Not long after announcing this decision, the U.S. Justice Department indicated it would dismiss a ticket citation against Locust Fork News-Journal Editor and Publisher Glynn Wilson for allegedly entering the posted area while it was closed. That decision along with a minor warning against future alleged violations was announced in a letter from U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and Assistant U.S. Attorney Chinelo Dike-Minor to Birmingham Attorney Justin K. Forester, who represented Wilson, on March 13.

We reported on this issue extensively back in November, with photos and video.

Forest Service Proposes Closing Lake Chinnabee Campground to Overnight Camping

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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