It could soon cost money to see some of the most popular sites in the Shawnee National Forest.
The nearly 290-thousand acre forest in southern Illinois attracts a lot of visitors. They come to experience amazing scenery and see numerous plant and animal species. But Laura Lecher, the Shawnee Recreation, Engineering and Lands Staff Officer said federal funding has been flat or declined in the past several years.
“On top of that, our recreation facilities are all getting older. Most of them were built anywhere between the 60’s and 80’s," she said. "You get older buildings, they start needing more help and maintenance.”
Lecher said that’s led to a plan for a $5 dollar per vehicle admission fee to certain locations. Those include the Garden of the Gods recreation area trail, the Pomona boat launch, the Little Grand Canyon, Bell Smith Springs, Johnson Creek boat launch and the Pounds Hollow beach. The forest's website indicates those locations were picked because they have "significant infrastructure in need of repair."
An annual $30 dollar pass, allowing for unlimited visits, would also be available. The money would go for upkeep and maintenance.
If the fee idea is approved through the U.S. Forest Service, it could go into effect next summer. Public meetings are being held to gather input and comments are also being accepted through the Shawnee Forest website.
Lecher points out many national forests already charge visitors.
“In some ways I consider it more fair because if you’re the one utilizing it, you’re one – in need of those facilities and two – you’re impacting those facilities,” she said.