Hiking with Shawn Supports

the Shawnee National Forest

Fee Proposal

As you may know, recently, the US Forest Service has proposed campground fee increases and day use site vehicle fees for 6 different sites within the Shawnee National Forest. It seems important to issue a press release about the position of Hiking with Shawn and the proposed fees. Please understand that the following statements and opinions reflect Hiking with Shawn, LLC and its brand and not third-party organizations, affiliates or non-branded entities.


Shawnee National Forest Fee Proposal: Pine Ridge Campground

Out of all the Shawnee National Forest fee proposal idea, the increase at Pine Ridge Campground makes the most sense. The current cost for any site at the campground is $10 a night. The increase would be $15 a night for electricity sites while the non-electric sites will remain $10 a night. Electricity costs money and therefore those sites should cost a little more. This is how it is with just about any campground out there. $10-$15 nightly campsites are still relatively cheap compared to other campground costs throughout the region.


Shawnee National Forest Fee Proposal: Day Site Use

There are 6 different sites where a proposed day-use fee is being discussed. These sites include:

  • Garden of the Gods Observation Trail
  • Pounds Hollow Beach
  • Johnson Creek Boat Launch
  • Pomona Boat Launch
  • Little Grand Canyon
  • Bell Smith Springs

The idea of this fee proposal is $5 a day per vehicle with the option of getting an annual pass to all sites for $30 a year. The money collected from each site will be divided as 95/5. This means that 95% of the fees will stay with the site they are collected from for maintenance and service costs while the other 5% of fees collected will be included into the regional Forest Service office budget. Regional office budgets are often used to help various ranger districts in the region, often times after some form of disaster has occurred such as severe weather or wild land fires. So the 95% that stays with the site can be used to improve the site such as parking, road conditions and rest rooms. Could you imagine some of the sites listed above being maintained better than they are at the moment?


Bell Smith Springs

The reason Hiking with Shawn supports this fee proposal initiative is the fact that it could help combat the biggest problem of the forest – littering. Have you visited Bell Smith Springs during the warm months? To be blunt and honest – it looks like a landfill. In fact, some have given it the name, Landfill Springs because of the amount of trash. Some people use the area to party and partake in alcohol usage, many of these people being under the legal drinking age. In the end, the trash from the partying is left behind even with trashcans available in the parking lot. The Shawnee National Forest is not a large forest therefore there isn’t a huge amount of staff. There isn’t enough forest Law Enforcement to keep Bell Smith Springs free of the littering issues. With a potential fee requirement, the littering could very well decrease and the partying could very well decrease as well.

I participated in a trash blast at Bell Smith Springs earlier this spring and a few months after that, another organization also picked up trash at the site. Both of these events relied strictly on volunteerism with the assistance of the US Forest Service. Within a few days, the amount of trash that was picked up had doubled in return. The two trash cleanup days were for nothing to be blunt and honest. A fee use declaration of Bell Smith Springs could very well help save the area from the worst of people out there. A litterbug is not a friend of the forest. I routinely try to visit Bell Smith Springs to pick up trash on the sides of the roads in that area. I’ve picked up used hypodermic needles that were exposed. Could you imagine a child finding one of these and getting cut by it? A fee proposal at Bell Smith Springs will not only help maintain the area but it will increase the present of the US Forest Service, as well as law enforcement which could help with the war against the litterbug. Imagine a Bell Smith Springs that is clean and safe for the whole family all year long.


Shawnee National Forest Fee Proposal Potential Issues

There are potential issues and problems with the fee proposals that I feel like need to be addressed. It is fair and transparent to mention these issues. (1) Southern Illinois is not a rich area. There are a lot of poverty and low income families. Many low income families rely on public lands for their trails, beaches and recreational areas as sources for family fun that don’t cost an arm and a leg. While $5 a day doesn’t seem like a lot of money for many of us, for a low income family, it is a lot of money. The fee proposals in these more popular areas could impact low income families. I feel that the US Forest Service can help address this issue by offering more to lower income families and families of young children such as their fifth grade fee waving program. (2) It seems the proposed areas are geared more towards those who hike, swim, camp and boat in the forest and not so much geared towards equestrian forest users. Horseback riding is popular in the Shawnee National Forest but the activities are hard on the forest and trails often require significant maintenance from left behind horse damage. Horses have a much higher impact on the forest than hikers do. However, it is fair to mention that there are many private-based horse camps that cater to equestrians which pay permit fees and many horseback riding organizations volunteer and pay for supplies to maintain the trails but they should as most of what they maintain is simply their own damage created by horseback riding. I feel that eventually further fee proposals for horseback riding areas may be an issue for transparency and fairness for all users of the forest.


Day Permit vs. Annual Permit

It is important to note that many National Forests, National Parks and even State Parks have day-use site permit fees. Some sites in the United States have permits that take years to get. Sometimes you have to wait a long time before being able to visit or camp in specific areas because of a large waiting list. The Shawnee National Forest can prosper and be a lot better with these potential permit fees. We’ve seen paid permits as a success at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge with vehicle permit stickers. The refuge is probably one of the best refuges around. So the forest service proposes $5 a day per vehicle or $30 a year for access to all fee sites. $30 isn’t bad but I am still considering on just paying single-day use fees. This is because it will give more money to the forest. I visit these 6 sites above quite a few times each year and would pay more than $30 a year if I were to just pay the day use fees. Don’t call me stupid for that – my reasoning is that I want to support my Shawnee National Forest. I want to see it get better. Folks, Hiking with Shawn has both changed my life for the better and saved my life. You all and the Shawnee National Forest have made my life better and I want to support that.


Shawnee National Forest Fee Proposal Public Meetings

The US Forest Service isn’t stamping out your opinions on this matter. Several public forums are in planning to get the opinions of the public who use the forest. The meetings are being planned to facilitate many people in all areas of the National Forest boundaries. These meetings will be facilitated by Friends of the Shawnee National Forest which I am a board member of. While at these meetings, I will represent this board and remain neutral of the discussion. The opinions and statements of this press release DO NOT reflect the opinions and mission of the Friends of the Shawnee National Forest. I encourage you to attend these open and free public forums to give your opinion, ideas and questions about the Shawnee National Forest fee proposal situation. Your feedback is really important and you have the right to give it. Public land is your land. Stay tuned to the US Forest Service website and social media pages for updated information on the upcoming public forum meetings.


Closing Note

As I said, the opinions and statements above are of Hiking with Shawn only. They do not reflect affiliated organizations or third-parties. I believe in an open forest for all people. Like I said, public land belongs to the public which is you and me. But I also want to see my Shawnee National Forest improve and I think with fees for certain areas; that can happen. The Observation Trail for example gets so many tourists – that area alone could really be improved with all the money collected for it. The same goes for Bell Smith Springs and Little Grand Canyon. I’m not publishing this article to try to win your vote, I’m just pointing out what makes me want to support this idea. A cleaner and better maintained forest is the main reason I support it. I’d love to see Bell Smith Springs free of the litterbugs that currently go to it – those people have absolutely no benefit to the forest. But I’d love to get your feedback about it all in a comment on this article!

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please share it, especially on social media, to help spread the word about this subject. It is important that everyone gets their voice heard.

Shawn J. Gossman

Shawn J. Gossman


Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.


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