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The Ozark National Scenic Riverways has long been a popular recreation area for many Missourians. A coalition of Missouri environmental groups submitted a petition this week that aims to increase protection of the rivers, caves, and springs in that national park. KSMU’s Emma Wilson brings us this report.
The Jack’s Fork and Current Rivers along with more than 300 caves and springs come together to form Ozark National Scenic Riverways. More than one million campers, floaters, horseback riders, and other visitors come to the park every year. In recent years, concerns about the water quality have created questions about this extensive recreation and how it is controlled inside the park. Ozark National Scenic Riverways is in the process of drawing up a new General Management Plan that will dictate how the public can use areas in the park. The plan will be in place for the next 20 years. John Hickey is the director of the Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“So in January, the National Park Service will distribute three different versions of the plan—from the most protection to the least protection. And the plan is very fine-grained, it says we’re going to have a campground here or not, ‘We’re going to allow off road vehicles or not, we’re going to have horses cross the river here or not.’”
The petition recently submitted by a coalition including the Sierra Club, Friends of Ozarks Scenic Riverways, LAD Foundation, Ozarks Greenway, and the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society asks the National Parks Service to put in place a strong General Management Plan.
“This only happens once every 20 or 25 years. So this is our opportunity to address some of the problems at the Current and Jacks Fork River”
Many of the concerns raised by the group involve the use and misuse of trails in the park. Hickey says that the unchecked use of ATVs as well as constant horse trail use and horse crossings is putting the river and its visitors in danger.
“Parts of the park have had to be closed to what they call full-body contact, what most of us call swimming, because of the amount of the e. coli in the river. If this continues we’re going to see more and more sections of the scenic riverways get over the legal limit for e. coli. For people who want to bring their children to the river, you want them to be able to jump and swim but you wouldn’t be able to if this continues.”
The president of the Local Chapter of the Audubon Society, Dave Catlin, says that the overuse also has negative impacts on the wildlife in and around the river, including several endangered species such as the Ozark hellbender.
“We recognize that the National Parks service has an important challenge, a difficult challenge: they’re supposed to both protect the parks and provide for their use. And our concern is just that the protection not get lost in the use.”
The petition includes three demands: for the park to develop a plan that “Removes Illegal and unauthorized roads that allow excessive vehicle traffic. Ends the e. coli contamination in the Jack’s Fork River caused by excessive horse traffic in the river.” And, “Enforces scenic easements to stop construction of more buildings along the rivers.”
Faye Walmsley is the Chief of Interpretation and public information officer at Ozark National Scenic Riverways. She says that the current General Management Plan was written in 1984 and no longer is suitable for the type of visitation the park has today. She says the staff had been working on drawing up a new plan over the past couple of years.
“So, of course, in 20-30 years, things change—patterns of use have changed—and that’s why this General Management Plan is so vital.”
After the plan is reviewed by the regional National Parks office and the Denver service center it will be sent to the national offices in Washington D.C. It will be open for public review and comments in January. The coalition of environmental groups sponsoring the petition hope to get the attention of the National Park Service before the review process is final. They dropped copies of 4,000 signatures they’ve collected on the petition so far at the local offices of Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt.
The final management plan proposal will be available for public review on the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways website and Facebook page. You can view the petition on the Missouri Sierra Club’s website.
For KSMU News, I’m Emma Wilson.