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Bid In Congress To Have Ozark National Scenic Riverways Given To State Of Missouri

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Will Congress go along with a plan to give the Ozark National Scenic Riverways to the state of Missouri?/Marty Koch

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.


As an avid outdoorsman and long time Jacks Fork patron, I pray that this does not pass.  I actually learned how to swim on this river and have been going back for the last 35 years of my life.  I remember staying at the NPS Alley Spring Campground when I was a child and I still refuse to stay anywhere else after some experiences at privately own campgrounds.  I have also stay at other state runned campgrounds throughout the state and I find the NPS does the better job.

I realize this gets a lot of support from locals and other Red leaning Missourians but I think it is a bad idea.  Let's look atn some issues to support my claim.

Anyone familiar with the area knows it is pristine until the NPS can not enforce it's laws(mainly Eminence).  These areas have been overrun with horses(the leading polution cause on the lower parts of the river), ATV trails and genuine disrespect for the river and it's habitat.  I know Shannon county is one of the poorest in the state but the only reason it has any money is directly because of the immeense tourism(and logging).  If the river begins to sway because of human interaction/ lack of enforcement, many visitors will NOT return to the area.

The huge reason is the proposed tax cuts in the MO.  How are they going to inherit what is arguably the nicest conservation environment in the state, and keep up the maintence and enforce the ignorant that do not respect the waterways- when the state will take a huge spending cut.  I can almost guarentee that environmental and conservative causes are not on the Republican agenda- half of them deny global warning out of political party duty.  So worst case scenario is that this bill passes, tax cuts pass and the river goes to the wayside allowing any "local yokal" to take their ATV or boat on the river without a fear of enforcement.   Completely degradating or destroying the ecosystem in the process(the same item that brings in a major source of revenue to the surrounding communities).


These rivers were made a Federal Park out of their pristine beauty and ecology.  Leave it that way. 

EC, if someone says, as the congressman has, that one action would impact local economies, wouldn't you say that they are concerned about profits?

As for access, the preferred management plan does not aim to restrict overall access. It DOES aim to clamp down on illegal access, as Jim has noted, and better manage competing recreational demands, all of which Traveler's collection of stories on this issue have pointed out.

One thing the congressman objects to is the Park Service's efforts to shut down 65 miles of ILLEGAL horse trails. At the same time, the agency is proposing to create 25-35 miles of new horse trails, on top of the existing 23-mile network of approved horse trails, and add a 25-site horse camp. And it would prepare an official recreational horse use and management plan. 

None of this "restricts" access to the Riverways. It does, though, attempt to better manage it.

The locals who are so upset about federal "restrictions" on "access" and activities might be in for a surprise under a state takeover.

Then I would think you would support the plan.

Jim, I think you (and others) have too many theories and presumptions and don't pay enought attention to actually what is said and done. 

The congressman's record on this issue speaks for itself

And never (to my knowledge - prove me wrong) has the congressman been on the record indicating this legislation is to protect profits. 


And, frankly, there's no evidence in the Park Service's preferred alternative that it aims to, or would, reduce visitation to the Riverways.

That's not his claim.  His concern is access not raw visitation numbers and there is no doubt that the preferred alternative limits access to areas that have been used for decades.

What's at the crux of the issue about NPS plans to "restrict access" to the river? One point involves the practice by some local residents of cutting their own network of roads and trails across park land, to allow direct access to (and into) the river from adjoining private property. Riding horses and ATV's anywhere they please, including in the river, is another bone of contention. The resulting resource damage problems seem to be well-documented.

The proposed NPS plan would limit such activity. Supporters of Rep. Smith's plan apparently presume that if the area were turned into a state park, such practices would not be curtailed. A reading of current Missouri State Park Regulations, however, suggests otherwise.

Just two examples from current state park regs: (1)"Horses, donkeys and mules are permitted only in designated areas within state parks ... Horses, donkeys and mules shall not be ridden on foot trails, through streams, off designated trails ..."

(2) "Motorized self-propelled vehicles or equipment may be operated only on park roads and thoroughfares unless otherwise permitted by park staff." (Exceptions would be designated Off-road vehicle (ORV) areas.) If the Riverway became a state park, would the entire area become an ORV area?  Based on existing state-managed lands, that seems unlikely.

Other state regs, including those dealing with alcohol use and noise in public areas, are even more restrictive than the NPS. The locals who are so upset about federal "restrictions" on "access" and activities might be in for a surprise under a state takeover.

So,  if a tree falls in the woods...

Is it a Conservative's fault?

Wow!  Some people would debate the politics of a Pine Cone.

I'm still aghast at the rhetorical gymnastics that convert "taking steps to reduce e-coli in the water" to "reduce public access".

"Really? Every lawmaker is decieptful everytime they speak?"

Well, okay.  I should have been more clear.  It's only conservative members of the GOP.

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