WILCOX — The Allegheny National Forest (ANF) will change operations at the Twin Lakes Recreation Area for the 2018 season, allowing day use operations but not camping in 2018.

“This is not a decision to close Twin Lakes, but for 2018 the ANF does not have the funding or means to address deficiencies with the wastewater treatment system that led to the early closure of the site in September 2017, or the lingering issues with other facilities that support camping at Twin Lakes,” Marienville District Ranger Rob Fallon said. “We recognize that Twin Lakes is an important recreation destination for local communities and we are committed to maintaining access to the site for day uses such as fishing, swimming, hiking and picnicking in 2018.”

In a public forum held Thursday night in Jones Township, local residents were visibly upset. Many expressed having multi-generational connections to the park which was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

In the 1960s, Twin Lakes averaged about 150,000 visitors per year, but that has since significantly declined.

“There has been a decrease in visitors since 2006, but we’ve seen a pronounced decrease in use in the last three years,” Fallon said.

Fallon said the ANF’s decision to shutter use of the campground also follows a decade of reduced appropriated funding for recreation management. The ANF has seen another 12 percent reduction in recreation funding since 2015. This has not only affected the ability to address deferred maintenance for recreation facilities across the Forest, it has reduced the staff available to manage the recreation program.

The ANF continues to operate developed recreation fee sites through a concessionaire permit, but this will not be an option for Twin Lakes in 2018.

Following the early closure of the Twin Lakes Recreation Area in September 2017, the concessionaire, Allegheny Site Management (ASM), determined that it could no longer operate this facility under the terms of their concession permit. ASM elected to turn the facility back to the Forest Service to operate.

The concessionaire was available at the meeting Thursday, saying that in the past years he’s done all he could for the facility, always coming up at a loss. Last year, his business did approximately $56,000 of work and only received $19,000 in recreation fees. He added the park has always operated at a loss.

The ANF has not yet been allocated funds to maintain or repair recreation or administrative facilities for 2018, but decisions on the upcoming operating season cannot be postponed. With limited staffing, the ANF can maintain public access to Twin Lakes for day use activities, but this will not include opening the main bathhouse.

Fallon said the other issues that led to the campground closure is mold issues in the bathroom, issues with the aging wastewater treatment infrastructure, and barium being found in the water at the lower camping loop, which is a long-term byproduct from glass plant production on Hoffman Run.

Fallon continually stressed throughout the meeting that the decision to forego camping at Twin Lakes in 2018 is not a decision to permanently close the facility. However in listening to the amount of repairs needed and dollars available, the chances to many in the crowd seemed grim.

Gathering public input from Twin Lakes’ users is essential to determining any future actions for this site.

Many in the public expressed how important the park is to the community and that they were willing to step up to volunteer or fundraise if that would help keep it open.

Another public open house is scheduled to be held from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, from 1-3 p.m. at Jones Township Community Building, 320 Faries Street, Wilcox.

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