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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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FINALLY someone is noticing what's going on at Ozarks.  Conservation-minded folks who love the park (as well as NPS employees) have witnessed bad resource decisions for far too long .  Thoughtful planning and adherence to basic National Park Service guidelines for protection and preservation should have been the norm, but instead they have been very rare for nearly 10 years.  A philosophical (and regime) change is in order.

What could one expect from the Bush Administration and republicans in office in MO. The Obama administration is just as bad. Obama has done little to correct decades of neglect in our National parks. By the way either has Congress.

I agree it seems that politicians tend to ignore the national parks. The last major investment in the national parks was mission 66 back in the 60s. 

Re: Ranger PaulLast major investment?  Didn't NPS receive a 700 Million windfall just year before last?  

Leonard Hall would be turning over in his grave if he knew this lovely river and country was being abused !!!!

"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."

This seems even to a simpleton like me to be an easy issue to correct.  What's the matter park managers, ain't ya got no stones??????
A waterway like the Chicago River (also recently placed on "The List") I can easily understand.  It's been nothing short of a glorified above-ground sewer for the past 150 years and for the majority of the past 60 years it has been annually colored green in mid-March to suit the petty nuances of some idiotic mayoral dynasty.  But for the Ozark Waterway to achieve this status if truly a sad day for us all.  Let's not allow the same thing to happen to the Upper St. Croix when some idiot decides to replace a bridge conveniently instead of responsibly.

Admittedly I am not the king, but if I were I'd completely shut down horse and ATV access on all roads - paved or otherwise - until nature recovers on its own.  A nice 50-year hiatus oughta show people the consequences of knowlingly ignoring the rules.  Yes, knowlingly.  This notion of simply needing to "edumacate" the public is a joke.  They know what they are doing.

This is my home turf.  I have spent hundreds of days on these two beautiful rivers.  I began with a ten day trip in the summer of 1970 and float it at least a half dozen times a year.  I am headed down again this Sunday for a trip.

What I have observed over the past 20 years is shocking.   I have seen major upgrades and enlargements of cabins on scenic easments really impact the wilderness quality on several sections.   You cannont go more than a mile or two on a summer weekend without seeing vehicles parked within sight of the river.   On the rare occassion that I have floated on a Saturday during the season I have been boobed, mooned and full frontal flashed, observed 4 wd trucks playing in the river, been turned over in my canoe by people who I did not know because I had made it through a tricky run and watched more than a few domestic disputes.  While the park service and local law enforcement have made a good effort at getting the rowdy behavior under contoll over the past five years, lots remains to be done.

My main concert is with the horses.  The largest of the horse operations has stalls for 3000 horses.  Several of these operations are located on a three or four mile stretch that was not included in the park during it's creation.  Imagine, the horse droppings and urine from these animals leacing into the river.  I have had to wait out strings of over a hundred horses as they crossed the river.  This is just from one of many horse operations on the rivers.  This stretch of the Jack's Fork in Eminence, MO is lined with cabins, motels, horse resorts, restaurants, private campgrounds and all manner of other developments.  This serves as an example of what the entire riverway would look like without NPS protection.

This park is part of my soul and my spiritual well being.  It saddens me that many of these problems already have laws to prohibit them, but enforcement is another thing.  Lots of local political influence seems to be applied to the park service.   Just my two cents worth.

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