Is Congress in the mood to return units of the National Park System back to the states in which they are located? An indication could come Tuesday, when a U.S. House of Representatives Committee considers legislation that calls for Ozark National Scenic Riverways to be given to the state of Missouri.
The legislation is the darling of Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican who doesn't want the National Park Service to implement a management plan that would bring an end to some 65 miles of illegal horse trails in the park and place limits on the horsepower of motorboats that use the Current and Jacks Fork rivers that flow through the Riverways.
In his legislation, H.R. 4020, which was introduced to Congress back in February and is scheduled to come up for discussion Tuesday before the House Subcommittee on Public Land and Environmental Regulation, Mr. Smith argues that the proposed management plan would "prevent members of the public from accessing the lands that compose the park." To accomplish the transfer, the Republican wants the federal government to pay all costs associated with it.
Mr. Smith also provides an avenue for the federal government to reacquire the Riverways: if the state of Missouri ever attempted to sell portions of it, or if the state managed the Riverway in a way other than how its been managed under the Park Service.
Perhaps to cover his bets in case the committee fails to report the bill out to the House floor, Rep. Smith has another measure for the committee's consideration. H.R. 4182, if passed, would essentially prohibit the Park Service from implementing the General Management Plan now under consideration.
Proponents 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.
Opponents, including Rep. Smith, counter that the approach would convert "the vast majority of the park to a natural area where evidence of human use is minimal." From his perspective, the Republican maintains the park's 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.
The preferred alternative does state the Park Service's intention to gain control over motorized watercraft on the rivers, in part by increasing the percentage of river corridor open only to non-motorized watercraft (ie., canoes or kayaks). And the proposal aims to better manage camping on gravel bars by restricting to designated campsites where visitors could drive their vehicles.
The preferred alternative also would create "river management zoning," under which efforts to better manage motorized and non-motorized river use would be instituted. Under the plan, 34 percent of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers would be restricted to non-motorized craft, 14 percent would be open to motorized and non-motorized during the high season that falls between March 15 and Labor Day, and 52 percent would be open to both motorized and non-motorized traffic year-round.