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Traveler's View: Don't Let The Sportsmen's Heritage And Recreational Enhancement Act Undermine National Parks

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Where in the rutted and muddy tire tracks gouged into the banks of Ozark National Scenic Riverways are the ties to sportsmen's heritage or recreational enhancement?

How is the whine of motors on the Current and Jacks Fork rivers that flow more than 100 miles through the Riverways in the Missouri Ozarks improving the recreational experience?

Why should the National Park Service stand quietly back while 65 miles of unauthorized horse trails are allowed to thread through the park's backcountry and down the river banks, across which the riders gallop into the streams?

That's the vision U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Missouri, has for the Riverways, where park staff currently are going through the thorny and insult-hurling process of crafting a new management plan.

The Republican congressman has vocally led the charge against the Park Service's proposed management plan, one that would impose some restrictions on -- not outlaw-- motorboat use, rein in the undesignated horse trails, and better protect the Riverways' resources. On Wednesday he succeeded in tacking an amendment onto the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act that would, if enacted, bar the Park Service from limiting motorboat use. He also promised to take the fight to the other management proposals preferred by the Park Service.

“It’s a shame the Park Service is trying to limit access in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways but I am committed to ensuring the rivers remain accessible. My amendment on The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act will ensure no new restrictions on motorized vessels will be allowed in the park,” Rep. Smith said in a release. “The Draft General Management Plans proposed by the Park Service will have a lot of support from Obama bureaucrats and big city environmentalists, but my constituents do not want the Park Service further restricting their rights on public lands. Moving forward I will continue fighting any attempts to designate new wilderness areas in the ONSR, close walking and horse trails, limit hunting, fishing, trapping, gigging, close access points, ban camping or other recreational activities in the park.”

Really?

How does unfettered use, whether it involves motorboats or horses, hiking or camping, benefit a landscape? How can a national treasure like the Ozark National Scenic Riverways benefit today or in the long run from E.coli problems associated with horses, ATV ruts run amok, or a party atmosphere that arises come summer with trucks parking on gravel bars in the rivers?

Surveys show that even the boaters are concerned about crowding. According to a 2011 survey the Park Service relied on in drafting its management plan, "Among motorized watercraft users, 26% would have preferred to encounter fewer visitors and 20% would have preferred to encounter more." (Another 17 percent were happy with the number of boaters they saw on the day they visited the Riverways, while 37 percent had no preference.)

And Rep. Smith should not overlook that the Riverways belongs to the American public, not only his constituents. If it truly is the congressman's belief, as his spokesman told the Traveler in December, that "(T)he folks who are using the parks are some of the best stewards of the land that you can imagine," regardless of the erosion, pollution, and unauthorized trail useage, then he doesn't appreciate the foresight or wisdom that went into the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916.

The Riverways' enacting legislation, passed in August 1964, specified that the rivers were being included in the National Park System "for the purpose of conserving and interpreting unique scenic and other natural values and objects of historic interest, including preservation of portions of the Current River and Jacks Fork River in Missouri as free-flowing streams, preservation of springs and caves, and management of wildlife, and provisions for use and enjoyment..."

To use the guise of sportsmen's heritage and recreational enhancement to justify no reductions in motorboat usage on the two rivers is folly and perverse. Our National Park System deserves better.

Traveler footnote: Public comments on the draft management plan are being taken through the end of today, February 7. You can read the 534-page draft plan and comment on it at this site.

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Two Missouri newspapers in opposite ends of the state have run an editorial about proposed plans for Ozark National Scenic Riverways--and supporting the NPS' preferred alternative. The Joplin Globe ran a reprint of an editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The editorial includes an interesting comment about Rep. Jason Smith, a key figure in the above story:

"On Feb. 7, the public comment period ended on the Park Service’s proposed management plan for the 134 miles of some of the most scenic and (at times) pristine stream-fed waterways in the country. There are those who make a living at treating the federal government as a bogeyman — people like Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, both Republicans — who suggest the Park Service should butt out. Never mind that the riverways wouldn’t be protected at all if not for the national park status bestowed upon the area by Congress in 1964. Mr. Kinder and Mr. Smith are just trolling for votes. They can and should be ignored."

The papers' summary of the plan:

"It is a carefully thought-out plan that has undergone tremendous public scrutiny over the past couple of years. It makes allowances for local businesses even as it does what the Park Service must do: protect a national treasure."

"Adopting Alternative B as a long-term management plan will protect the Current and Jacks Fork rivers while preserving economic opportunities for the people who make a living in that area. The Park Service should move forward with its favored management plan."


Mr. Runte, I agree with your post. Thank you.


rmackie,

I appreciate your post (as I do with all your posts). I read Rodf as making a slightly different point, though. I'm not sure he's arguing that the issue shouldn't t be discussed, but just how it should be discussed. Does this Congressman's comments really warrant a response in an editorial, or might it be better simply to report the comments and let them stand on their own, in a news article? (Incidentally, I don't know what the answer is here.)


to me that means they don't have an opinion, not that they're endorsing the status quo.

But it does mean they don't object to the status quo.


Two purely pragmatic questions: (1) What, realistically, chance has this act to be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President? (2) If none, then shouldn't it just as well be ignored? What is the goal of the editorial policy of this site? As a forum to cultivate partisanship?

Comments: (1) same chance as the 47 house votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (2) This site has, some time ago, become such a silly political battleground that it has passed the point of becoming tiresome to most of us who are simply interested in our National Parks. Kurt has set the course here to make it even more so, by again choosing to write an editorial rather than a news article dismissing this act of political theatrics. Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

I vote for Alfred Runte as editor. Until then, like I suspect a growing number of non-readers, I have better things to do with my time. G'day, kids.


EC, not sure I'd agree with your math. When someone says they don't have a preference, to me that means they don't have an opinion, not that they're endorsing the status quo. If you didn't care whether the Broncos or the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, at game's end does that mean you wanted the Seahawks?

And the 17 percent who said they were happy with the number of boaters they saw on one day...well, did they see 20, and would they be happy with 50?

The bottom line of the survey appears that of those who had an opinion, most wanted to encounter a reduced number of boaters.

As you know, a lot of survey results depend on how the questions are framed, and unfortunately I don't have the survey questions.

Also, as to horse use, that is one of the offensive uses, according to the folks well-familiar with the issue. E.coli levels in the river from horses and humans are a problem.


Unfortunately, you can't have it both ways.

Sure you can. You can restrict truely offensive behavior (that was offensive before or after the confiscation) like littering, ATV's through the river et al, and maintain the ability to boat on the river, camp, and ride horses which were prior unoffensive uses.


Are there people abusing the area. Yes. Should they be stopped, yes. But to take the land and then outlaw what previously were perfectly acceptable uses is wrong.

Unfortunately, you can't have it both ways. Either the activities that are abusing the land (and river) are going to be allowed ... or stopped. Not all activities that were deemed "perfectly acceptable" by private property owners decades ago are automatically acceptable today on public lands, simply because "we used to do that."

Based on information in previous stories in the Traveler on this issue, it also sounds like there are some activities taking place now on public lands that the previous private landowners likely would not have tolerated. (Examples include allowing anyone to take their ATV's or horses onto the property and make a new "trail" anyplace they choose.)

It's understandable that some local residents are still angry that they were forced to sell their land to create the park, but the reality is they were paid for the property, they no longer own it, and they no longer have unrestricted rights to use it as they please. Trying to define some guidelines for acceptable uses of public land is what this plan is all about.


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