Weekly Columns

The Groundhog predicted that spring would come early this year. Unfortunately since February 2, we’ve experienced more snow days, so if you’re like me you’re getting cabin fever and you’re anxious for warmer weather. Many Arkansans are looking forward to spending time in the sun and are already busy planning vacations and scheduling trips to the lake or booking cabins and camp sites throughout the Natural State. 

Did you know that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates 100 campgrounds and recreation areas in Arkansas? Chances are if you’re an avid outdoorsman and like to take advantage of nature in our state, you’ve spent some time at one of those locations. A small use fee is often required at improved recreation facilities. Most citizens who spend money at a Corps recreation site in Arkansas expect that their money will be reinvested on-site to improve facilities or to create new recreation opportunities. 

To match this expectation on many federal lands, Congress passed the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA). This law strengthens recreation and visitor services by keeping most fees on-site for improvements that visitors want and require. FLREA allows reinvestment of recreation fees for five federal agencies—the Bureau of Reclamation; National Park Service; Fish and Wildlife Service; the Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior; and the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately FLREA was drafted in a way that left out the Corps of Engineers.  

Since Arkansas has numerous Corps projects that bring in significant revenue, I introduced the Corps of Engineers Recreation Improvement Act with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Our bill is a simple fix to allow the reinvestment of millions of dollars at Arkansas Corps facilities by including the Corps in FLREA.  

The Corps already charges fees for certain activities. This legislation would simply guarantee that the Corps is able to use these fees in the same manner as federal land management agencies. In Arkansas, more than $4.2 million was collected in 2012 at Corps recreation facilities. In addition, our bill allows the Corps to provide passes that other agencies, like the National Park Service, currently provide to military families.  

As Arkansans, we are blessed with great natural wonders that offer us a wealth of recreational options. Our bill provides commonsense approach for maintaining and improving facilities that people use in the Natural State and to continue attracting people to these sites, ensuring that money spent in our state is kept in Arkansas.