Home Breaking News Supporters hold rally to save Albert Pike campground

Supporters hold rally to save Albert Pike campground

News-Leader photo/JOHN BALCH RALLY SPEAKER. Marty Walker (right) addresses the crowd Saturday morning during a rally to save Camp Albert Pike. The campgrounds have been closed since June 2010.

By John Balch

News-Leader staff

“If we keep making noise, this campground will be open again,” Marty Walker told a group of about 60 to 70 people who gathered Saturday morning at the “Save Camp Albert Pike Rally.”

Walker, along with a large number of like-minded campers from all over the Ark-La-Tex area and beyond, is spearheading an effort to have the campgrounds at the Albert Pike Recreational Area reopened to overnight camping.

The campgrounds have been closed since the June 2010 flash flood that swept through overnight and claimed the lives of 20 campers, including several children. The tragedy also resulted in 11 lawsuits being filed against the federal government, which operated the park through the U.S.D.A. Forest Service. The lawsuits were eventually consolidated by the courts before being dismissed and affirmed in July 2018 by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Walker reminded those in attendance Saturday that there is no court ruling that says the campground cannot be reopened. When the lawsuits were still pending, Walker said the Forest Service would respond to requests to reopen the park with, “They – whoever ‘they’ are – won’t let us open the campground.”

Walker said no one will ever forget the tragedy of 2010 or lives lost, but it is his opinion that the time to mourn has long since passed.

“Bad things happen, and I hate 

that it happened here, but we can’t quit living our lives because of a natural disaster,” Walker said. “It’s going to happen again, somewhere.”

Those in attendance also questioned why primitive camping is allowed outside of the park while there is no camping allowed within.

“That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever,” Walker said.

Walker, who started camping at Albert Pike in 1964 when he was nine years old, also pitched a possible plan of action at the rally that involves the state taking over or renting the park from the government. He urged campers to ask Gov. Asa Hutchinson to contact Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue about the possibility.

“This is an Arkansas park,” Walker said. “We don’t need federal help to run the parks of Arkansas. The state is completely capable of running parks in Arkansas.”

Walker called it a “doable situation” and added that a state park would create jobs and help spur the area’s tourist industry.

Darlene Emison of El Dorado attended Saturday’s rally wearing her “Happy Camper” T-shirt which she had modified to include “NOT A” on its front. Emison had been coming to Albert Pike for 60 years.

News-Leader photo/JOHN BALCH NOT HAPPY. Darlene Emison of El Dorado changed her T-shirt to include “Not A” in front of the words “Happy Camper.” Emison has been coming to Albert Pike for 60 years and wants the park re-opened.

“Anybody that is important in my life, I have brought them here,” Emison told The Nashville News-Leader, “because, this is to me, the greatest place on Earth.” Emison added that she feels “closer to God” when she is at the park and wants it reopened so others can create lasting memories of their own.

Debbie Taylor of Mt. Vernon, Texas, said her family had been coming to the area for 50 years and she hopes to soon camp there again and to also witness her other grandson getting baptized in the park’s swimming hole.

“Clean it up or get out of the way,” was the message to the Forest Service from Ron Carter, also of Mt. Vernon. “The people will take care of it.”

Walker urged those in attendance to join the Save Camp Albert Pike Facebook page and sign the petition posted there. The petition was started in 2014 by Kay New of Magnolia and has more than 1,500 signatures. New said she was hoping to create and post another petition on Facebook this week in hopes of getting more of the page’s 3,200 followers to sign on.

“This special place had an impact for so many people,” Walker said in noting that the current petition includes signature from Peru, New York and Italy.

At Saturday’s rally there was no representatives from county, state or federal level in attendance with the only Forest Service presence being rangers driving by the rally site.

Though the area’s buildings are boarded up and closed and campsites overgrown, several families were enjoying the cold waters of the park’s swimming hole during the rally.

Prior to the lawsuits being filed, the USDA released a visitor safety report in which an U.S. Geological Survey expert described the flood as a 500-year flood and reported steps were being taken to “reduce the chances of such a tragedy in the future.”

The report also contained the following quote from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:

“In the hours after the floodwaters receded, I committed to getting to the bottom of what happened the night of June 11, not only so that we have all the fact about that night, but also to ensure that treasured locations like this one remain available to the public and that they can be enjoyed safely.”

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