Ozark National Scenic Riverways Proposals Cause Backlash

By Grant Sloan | gsloan@kolr10.com

Published 03/27 2014 07:03PM

Updated 03/27 2014 09:19PM

VAN BUREN, Mo. -- A new plan to regulate, what many consider to be, Missouri's "crown jewel" is causing quite a stir in the Ozarks.

The National Parks Service is in the process of updating how it manages the areas along the Jacks Fork and Current Rivers.

The proposals have received plenty of backlash from both local residents and legislators alike.

"Limiting access within our creek and riverbeds, and any other aspect that could limit recreation use, I will be fighting tooth and nail," said Missouri Congressman, Jason Smith, at a US House Subcommittee hearing on Public Landing and Environmental Regulation.

The National Parks Service says its proposals will help with overcrowding on the rivers, and help to preserve the Ozark National Scenic Riverways for generations to come. "there's been a lot of misconception of what we’re trying to do," says OSNR Superintendent Bill Black.

"There are more boats on (the Current River) by 100 times, what was here 20 years ago," says OSNR Park Ranger Lindel Gregory.

Among the proposals are limiting boats to 40 horse power engines on certain sections of the river, that are currently unlimited. Among those sections is a 20 mile stretch on the Current River from Big Spring Landing in Van Buren, to Gooseneck near the end of the park.

"I know a lot of the local people that have larger than (40 horse power motors), that put in at big spring just to get away from the crowds," says local business owner Tom Bedell. He says nearly 90 percent of the flotation devices, more than 40,000 each season, are rented on the current river come from his business.

Bedell says the proposals could eventually limit how many people he can put out on the water at a time, but he also understands the controversy surrounding proposals to close river access points.

"When you start talking about access to the part that people have used for 75 (or) 100 years, its not going to sit well with people," says Bedell.

The National Park Service says while some access points would be closed, others across the river would be opened to help with the overcrowding issues.

The NPS also says it would still keep open roughly 35 miles of horse trails at the northern portion of the rivers, out of the some 100 miles that are currently unauthorized. "Unfortunately we've got unauthorized horse trails on the upper part of the river that people made themselves," says OSNR Superintendent Bill Black.

His college, and Park Ranger Lindel Gregory says even though he supports the change, he too will have to adjust, ""this impacts my family just like they do everyone else, but I really believe that I want it to be that sacred place for my kids."

Still, opponents to the plan, like Missouri Senator Jason Smith, who is pushing for the federal park to be placed back in the States hand says the changes are unnecessary. ""for the last 30 years we've been under the same general management plan as the OSNR, and it's worked great."

"I think his concern is that preservation will overshadow recreation, " says Tom Bedell.

The National Park Service say a final plan should be in place by the winter of 2014, and that the more than 4,000 public comments will be taken into consideration.

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