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Updated: Unenviable List: Ozark National Scenic Riverways Ranked Among 10 Most Endangered Rivers


Rampant, unrestricted horse use is leading to high E. coli levels in the Current and Jacks Fork rivers in Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which also is plagued by poorly managed all-terrain vehicle use, according to a new report. Photos and graphic from Friends of Ozark Riverways.

Lack of public education and illegal entry were blamed Tuesday when officials at Ozark National Scenic Riverways were confronted with a report that said they are not properly caring for the national treasure.

Chief of Interpretation Faye Walmsley also questioned the contention in American Rivers' Most Endangered Rivers report that there are hundreds of miles of illegal horse trails and 10 times more river access points for all-terrain vehicles than had been planned for the scenic riverways.

"There are some disputes I have," Chief Walmsley said when presented with the numbers.

The American Rivers report released Tuesday morning portrayed the scenic riverways in Missouri as being strangled by poor National Park Service management. Since 1984 all-terrain vehicles have created a dusty, spaghetti bowl network of trails, some that lead down into the Current and Jacks Fork river corridors and onto gravel bars used by canoeists and other boat campers, states the report.

Additionally, horse use of the park has gotten out of control; while there are only 23 miles of designated equestrian trails in the park, "National park management allows equestrian use on any unpaved roads and trails, and there are now more than 250 miles of horse trails and 80 places where horses cross the rivers in the park, which harm water quality with erosion and manure."

Chief Walmsley, however, questioned those numbers. Regardless, she said off-road use of ATVs in the park was illegal, as was horse use beyond those 23 miles of trails.

"ATVs are not authorized in the park. They’re only allowed on county roads," she said. "So, those in the park that are not on a county road, they’re running their ATVs illegally.”

While Chief Walmsley acknowledged that the park's law enforcement rangers couldn't be everywhere in the park at all times to look for illegal uses, she was of the opinion that the main issue was educating the public as to what they could do in the scenic riverways and where.

Since 2006 the park has been working on a new general management plan, one that will outline ways to manage recreation in the scenic riverways and also evaluate areas for possible designation as official wilderness. Revisions to that draft are ongoing, and officials hope to have a version for public review later this year, Chief Walmsley said.

While the Park Service describes the scenic riverways as home to "two of America’s clearest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers," the American Rivers report paints a decidedly different image.

In 1984, there were 13 developed river access points and public campgrounds. Today, there are more than 130 vehicular river access areas, many characterized by a maze of unmanaged dirt roads that send untold amounts of sediment into the river. Virtually all gravel bars (used for canoe and boat camping) are subject to invasion by all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and other vehicles. The vehicles destroy vegetation, and contribute to severe erosion and harm water quality.

This is not just the case of a national environmental organization filling out a list. The scenic riverways' local friends group has been working to highlight the various threats to the Current and Jacks Fork rivers as well, stating quite bluntly that "(M)ismanagement of Ozark National Scenic  Riverways has degraded Missouri’s premier National Park."

According to Friends of Ozark Riverways, when the unit was added to the National Park System in 1964 to specifically protect a "wild river system," river access points were planned to fall roughly 15-20 miles apart down the length of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. Today there are more than 130 access points, or almost one every mile along the 134-mile riverways, the group notes.

"This explosion of access has downgraded the user experience and seriously damaged resources. It is virtually impossible to find a secure refuge from motorized vehicles anywhere in this park," the friends group notes on its website.

Horse use in the scenic riverways also is leading to high E. coli levels in the rivers, according to the group.

Even the most recent data from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Water Protection Program shows that E.coli levels in the lower seven miles of the Jacks Fork have been increasing since 2002. E.coli levels have been linked to increased horse waste in the river and its tributaries. These rivers, the Jacks Fork and the Current, are supposed to be of the highest water quality in Missouri. Their high quality for recreation, especially for swimming in the national park, must not be degraded. In 2002 at river mile 4.5 the annual E.coli geometric mean was 26 and ... in 2009 it was 116. We must reverse this alarming trend.

  Groups supporting the Friends of Ozark Riverways in its campaign to reserve these trends include:

* Missouri Coalition for the Environment

* Missouri Parks Association

* Missouri Wilderness Coalition

* Ozark Fly Fishers

* St. Louis Adventure Group

* St. Louis Canoe and Kayak Club

* Missouri Archaeologial Society

* Environment Missouri

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Emerson has the problem here foe many years, her campaign has recieved huge contributions for the Cross Country Trail Rides and the Smith family, just go to and lookup zip code 65466.

You are right about the park, let's clean it all up as well as the dirty politics that got it there in the first place.

How many canoers have floated the river and dumped there canoes full of trash over in the deep holes? Did you even try to recover the debris, or did you leave it in the river? There are way more tourists that come down here and think they can get away with everything and leave us to clean up the mess. 

Carolyn Dyer's parents own the CROSS COUNTRY TRAIL RIDE which claims to be the worlds largest trail ride. They advertise that they have over 3000 stalls and the whole operation is in the Jacks Fork river floodplain. This huge operation has put the river on the 303 (D) list of impaired waterways as well as the ENDANGERED RIVERS LIST. They claim they have no control of the thousands of equestrians once they leave their property and they have little to keep the riders on the designated trails and crossings. Large contibutions to CONGRESSMAN EMERSON have enabled them to operate in this heinous manor. 

The miles of new road to a river access ever mile could easily be fixed by a few tree or rangers camping out writing tickets when people find them selves off designated roads. Word of tickets spread fast. And the horses are just rude. the people i have seen riding them dont need trails they literally use the river as their trail. Try canoeing past a group of 50 or 100 horses walking down the river.

Marty again another commenter who doesn't have a clue!  There are not "many" horse operations on the Jacks Fork river and I very much doubt that you had to wait for "hundreds" of horses to cross for you to be able to float.  What I hear you saying is that YOU can't enjoy yourself in the way YOU feel you should be able to because there are other users enjoying the rivers also.  Well, guess what, that's not going to change.  With over a million visitors to this park each year I'm pretty sure the .8% that can be attributed to equestrian users is not the main issue.  Since you enjoy floating have you counted how many floaters and swimmers use the river in comparison to the number of horses you have actually witnessed in the length of your float?  I wonder if this could have any impact, if there is actually a problem!!

Lone Hiker I think you need to get your facts straight!  There are not 250 miles of equestrian trails within the park boundaries nor are there 80 river crossings.  My family maintains the majority of this trail system and I can accurately say that this is untrue.  There are about 250 miles of trail within the trail system near Eminence, however, the majority of these trails lie outside the park boundary on State and privately owned property.  The park has no authority over these areas, nor should they!!  There are approximately 10 equine river crossing within the entire NPS boundary which includes Jacks Fork and Current Rivers.  I believe that this is an insignificant number in comparison to the number of miles these rivers cover.  While you may not enjoy sharing the river with other user groups, it is not your decision to make and I don't believe the misuse is nearly as rampant as environmentalists would like everyone to believe.

the answer is community involvement, the rangers cannot do it by themselves and we will be greatly disappointed if we continue to wait for our elected officials to solve this problem or any other

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