RUSSELLVILLE — In an effort to learn how people use their public lands, the Ouachita and the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests began collecting visitor information through surveys starting on Oct. 1.

The Forest Service uses the National Visitor Use Monitoring survey program to produce estimates of the number of visitors to the National Forests and Grasslands. The survey also includes measuring forest visitors’ satisfaction and the amount of money spent during visits. Information from the surveys helps both forests plan for future recreation opportunities. The surveys will continue until the end of September 2020. During this time, the public will encounter both forest and contract employees working in developed and dispersed recreation sites and along forest service roads. Workers will be out in all types of weather conditions, wearing bright orange vests and near a sign saying “Traffic Survey Ahead.”

“We encourage everyone that possibly can to participate in the survey,” said Bill Jackson, the Ouachita National Forest recreation program manager. “The survey will provide visitors to the national forests in Arkansas and Oklahoma an opportunity to let forest managers know how we can improve their recreation experience. Although the survey is entirely voluntary, participation is extremely important so we can assess visitor experiences and strive to make the Forests a better place to visit.”

The information gathered is useful for forest and local community tourism planning. It provides national forest managers with an estimate of how many people recreate on the national forest, what activities they engaged in while there and how satisfied people are with their visit. Economic impact to the local economy is also captured in the survey.

The survey, which occurs every five years, gathers basic visitor information. Surveys are voluntary and all responses are confidential; names are not included. “The survey takes only about 10 minutes to complete,” said Ozark-St. Francis National Forests Recreation Program Manager, Robert Duggan. “We would appreciate it if visitors would answer the few questions and participate in the survey. It’s important for interviewers to talk with local people using the forest, as well as out-of-area visitors, so all types of visitors are represented in the study.”

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