While National Park Service personnel are trying to craft a long-term management plan for Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri's lieutenant government is making a pitch for the state to "reclaim this resource."
The planning efforts have unleashed a battle in Missouri, where some believe the Park Service's draft preferred alternative would greatly restrict access to the Jack Fork and Current rivers that are at the heart of the riverways.
As the Traveler reported last month, a freshman congressman from Missouri's 8th District maintains that the park's approach would convert "the vast majority of the park to a natural area where evidence of human use is minimal." From his perspective, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith maintains the preferred alternative would be devastating to area economies and continue what he sees as efforts by the Park Service to limit access to the forests and rivers within the National Riverways.
Now Missouri's lieutenant governor, Peter Kinder, has penned an op-ed calling for the Show-Me State to show it can better take care of the riverways than the federal government.
"Under the supposed benevolent care of the federal government, Ozark National Riverways is threatened. The solution should not be to give that same federal government more authority and power over the area’s management," he wrote. "Doing so not only will restrict Missourians and visitors from enjoying time on the Jacks Fork and Current, but will hurt many small businesses in southern Missouri that depend on tourism and recreation dollars. The last thing this region needs is more overbearing management by bureaucrats in Washington.
"The creation and management of parks is clearly a responsibility that Missouri handles well. There is no reason to believe it would be any different with a state-managed Ozark Scenic Riverways. It’s time for Missouri to begin efforts to reclaim this resource from the federal government."
Supporters of the park's planning efforts say the structure of the preferred alternative in the draft General Management Plan is long overdue and necessary to prevent further degradation of the 134 miles of the Jacks Fork and Current rivers that course through the rumpled, cave-studded, spring-gushing countryside of southern Missouri's Ozark Mountains.
Over the years park officials have grappled with their mandate to preserve and protect the rivers. Rowdy boaters, drunken behavior, camping illegally on gravel bars, and the preponderance of unauthorized trails woven into the parkscape -- 65 miles of unauthorized horse trails, for example -- have challenged the staff. Indeed, a root of the uproar over the draft management plan that is now open for public comment can be traced to how the Park Service has managed, or in some views mismanaged, the National Riverways that was authorized in 1964 and officially dedicated in 1972.
"Frankly, enforcement has been the biggest problem over the past 30 years," said Lynn McClure, who as director of the National Parks Conservation Association's Midwest Office is studying the draft GMP and preparing comments on it. “It’s not an easy park to patrol. No. 1, it’s got a lot of linear miles to it on two sides of a river. You multiply that park boundary one way by two. It’s not easy to patrol.
"What’s happened I think over the last 30 years, the norm has become something that really wasn’t allowed at the park, in terms of what size of a boat you’re supposed to run on the river, in terms of pulling vehicles, cars, trucks, whatever into the middle of the river, onto the gravel bars and just parking," Ms. McClure said last week while discussing the draft document. "There are gravel bars where vehicle use or truck use is allowed, but it’s just become more common to just pull the truck out into the river."
From his office, Lt. Gov. Kinder has acknowledged that "rowdy behavior along the rivers, illegal camping and unauthorized trails have threatened the pristine area." At the same time, he doesn't believe the Park Service has the proper solution to controlling that behavior.
"The federal government's solution, at the urging of environmentalists, is to restrict access to the water and the abutting lands," he maintained.
Details of the draft management plan can be found on this page. Comments are being taken through February 7, and you can leave them on that page, too.