Traveler's View: Rep. Smith Looking In The Wrong Direction For Economic Boost
In Colorado, the push has been on for years to have Colorado National Monument redesignated as Colorado National Park. A similar movement has been simmering at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California, been mentioned at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah, and actually succeeded at the newly named Pinnacles National Park in California.
All in the name of boosting tourism and boosting economies.
But in Missouri, a brash congressman believes tourism, economic activity, and recreational access would best be served by turning Ozark National Scenic Riverways into Ozark "State" Scenic Riverways, or something similar.
Rep. Jason Smith fears access to the National Riverways in his congressional district, Missouri's 8th, would be harmed by a National Park Service management plan that would do away with 65 miles of unauthorized horse trails (while adding 35 miles of new trails to the currently approved 23 miles) and place some limits on motorboat usage, among other things.
The Republican last week introduced an amendment, which the House adopted, to prevent the Park Service from tinkering with motorboat regs (a move that could acually backfire on him, as it would require the Park Service to stop ignoring the 60 horsepower engines on some boats and enforce the 40 HP limit already on the books) and now has introduced legislation to transfer the National Riverways to state control.
The congressman claims his action comes as a "direct response to constituent concerns.” Others closer to Missouri politics claim he's just grandstanding to his Tea Party followers.
Missouri's governor, a Democrat, has endorsed the Park Service's preferred management plan for the National Riverways ("(The plan) provides the best course for continued and future enjoyment of this treasure," Gov. Jay Nixon wrote Interior Secretary Sally Jewell), though his lieutenant governor, a Republican, has opposed it. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also has backed the Park Service.
Congressman Smith is taking an extreme position, one that, if Congress ever agreed with it, could do more harm than good for his constituents. While politicians and residents of other states see the high economic value that is carried by having a unit of the National Park System in their states, the Republican believes knocking the National Riverways down in stature would bring benefits.
"How so?" is the question of the day.
Would a Rocky Mountain "State" Park have the same cachet as a Rocky Mountain National Park? Would Shenandoah "State" Park carry the same drawing power as Shenandoah National Park (a good question, in light of efforts by some in Virginia to effect that name change)?
Would allowing the landscape around the National Riverways to be ground up by ATVs, letting high E.Coli loads in the rivers continue, and letting horsemen carve their own trails, be a recreational draw that benefits local businesses?
Regardless of whether Rep. Smith's "decommissioning" legislation gains traction in the Senate, his campaign against the Park Service already likely has done damage to tourism and economic activity along the National Riverways. Wire service stories from coast-to-coast and op-ed pieces readily visible via Google Alerts have hung out the story for all to see.
While national park visitors seek out clean waters, beautiful sceneries, and wonderful experiences, learning about the E.coli problems on the Jacks Fork and Current rivers, the 65 miles of unauthorized horse trails, canoes being overturned by rowdy individuals, and the pickup trucks parked in mid-stream can't be appealing.
Should Congress should call the congressman's bluff? Decommission Ozark National Scenic Riverways and hand it back to Missouri? And then let the state figure out how to cover the $6.4 million the Park Service now spends annually to manage the unit, its 125 employees, or the roughly $7.5 million the agency intends to spend on restoration and rehabilitation projects at Big Springs and Alley Mill?
The fact that the state already has its own funding problems likley wouldn't be helped by assuming the $32 million in deferred maintenance at Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Missouri also would find itself responsible for about 160 miles of roads, not to mention the unauthorized horse trails.
"The loss of revenue combined with the increase in operational costs if the National Riverways was just another state park would be staggering," Lynn McClure, Midwest Region director for the National Parks Conservation Association, told a Missouri legislative committee earlier this week. "The State of Missouri has debt of more than $47 billion right now, which works out to roughly $7,900 state debt for each and every citizen in the state. At a time when all state legislators are concerned about reducing debt, conveying the Ozark National Scenic Riverways to the state of Missouri would achieve exactly the opposite."
And the resulting loss of a park system unit such as Ozark National Scenic Riverways would be not only to Missouri, but to the entire nation.