The meetings were scheduled because Missouri Department of Natural Resources officials said there weren’t sufficient opportunities for the public to comment before the Ozark Mountain, Bryant Creek, Jay Nixon and Eleven Point properties were purchased shortly before then-Governor Jay Nixon’s term ended.
Before a meeting Tuesday night in Ava to get public comment on Bryant Creek State Park, Missouri State Parks Director Ben Ellis said selling the properties, “has never been an option,” contrary to what some media outlets have reported.
"We are focused on currently looking at how to move forward to provide public access to these properties," Ellis said.
But without funding to move forward, he said, making the properties accessible to the public will be very difficult. DNR currently has $200 million in deferred maintenance on other state parks.
Ava resident, Jennifer Williams, attended Tuesday’s meeting because she’s concerned that tax dollars are being misappropriated.
"I think it should be held back off. We should investigate re-selling these. We have enough state parks. They only have 45 park rangers, 95 parks. We can't keep up with this," Williams said.
She believes, if the land can’t be sold, the state should look into logging on the properties to recoup some of the money spent on them.
Tim Stanton feels just the opposite. The retired Missouri Department of Conservation forester wants the Bryant Creek property kept in public ownership and made accessible to the public for hunting, fishing and camping.
"I just want it for the people. We're losing too many pieces of property right now, especially quality property with a lot of river footage. It's a jewel. It's a jewel of the Ozarks is what it is," he said.
MDC had an opportunity to purchase the property at one time, he said, but the funding wasn’t available. It was sold to people who he said, "cut it pretty heavy, and it broke my heart."
According to Ellis, the Bryant Creek property still has a stand of native tall pines, which is rare to find anymore in the state.
Stanton would like to see a partnership between MDC and DNR that would allow Bryant Creek State Park to eventually open to the public.
That’s a possibility, according to Ben Ellis.
"We're looking very closely at the possibility of various partnerships. MDC is one. It may be something that they're very interested in, and if they're interested, we'd like to pursue that discussion. There may be public/private partnerships that are available. We have many concessionaires who do improvements in parks who are already established. It could be something like that," Ellis said.
Partnerships will be one of the “very viable” ways they can move forward on working to provide public access to Missouri's newest state parks, he said.
So far, that appears to be what the majority of those attending the meetings would like to see happen.
Brian Haenke, who lives near Gainesville, attended Tuesday's meeting because he's interested in what happens to Bryant Creek State Park, which is close to where he lives.
I would hate to the see the park, you know, be exploited, the land be exploited for its natural resources. I feel it's very important to retain the natural state of the park and the habitat and the Bryant Creek Watershed," he said.
DNR’s communications director, Connie Patterson, said, while some at Monday night’s meeting in Branson on the Ozark Mountain State Park wanted to see the property sold, the vast majority was passionate about keeping it in public ownership.
"I would say predominantly the public sentiment has been, 'let's keep these lands in public ownership as much as possible,'" said Patterson.
DNR has extended the public comment period on these properties to January 5. Ellis said they wanted to “make a good faith effort to hear what people have to say.”