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.”
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.