I have received several letters from concerned citizens about the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which includes the Current and Jacks Fork rivers in southern Missouri.
Through Feb. 7, the National Park Service is accepting public comments, on its website, on the draft of the general management plan. Many groups, including the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Sierra Club Missouri Chapter, Audubon Missouri, and Friends of Ozark Riverways, are asking members to weigh in.
The Park Service has posted the entire draft plan at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=158&projectID=15793&documentID=56208.
The agency has offered three alternatives:
• Alternative A emphasizes “greater opportunities for traditional, nonmechanized forms of recreation and visitor experiences that are quieter, less crowded, and slower paced. Focus on protecting natural resources and systems,” according to the Park Service.
• Alternative B enhances “opportunities for visitors to discover and learn about the natural wonders and Ozark heritage of the National Riverways, while maintaining a mix of traditional recreational and commercial activities. Emphasis placed on increasing opportunities for visitor education and connections to natural resources and cultural landscapes.”
• Alternative C seeks “to provide a diversity of outdoor recreational opportunities and experiences maintaining highly scenic setting and cultural resources. Managed to support higher levels and diverse types of recreational opportunities, with a focus on more intensive management to ensure that excessive impacts on resources or public safety would not occur. Land-based recreational opportunities would be increased.”
I would call Alternative A the one with the lowest impact and C the one with the greatest impact. Many environmental groups seem to compromise in the middle with Alternative B.
I invite you to go to the Missouri Coalition for the Environment’s website. Go to www.moenviron.org, and under the “our work” tab, go to “water resources” and click “Ozark National Scenic Riverways.” The coalition has outlined exactly what the plan entails. Here are some brief, but important details:
• Alternative A: No motor vehicles on gravel bars. Reduced equestrian use. Add 25 miles of horse trails. Consider permit system for horses. Reduce conflicts among users, have more hiking trails, more motor-free zones, limit of commercial services.
Alternative B: Close undesignated roads, river crossings, horse trails. Establish permit system for horses. New visitor learning center and contact station. Two additional campgrounds. Resume the oral history program, discovery sites, enhancement of archive and museum collections. The is the alternative that Park Service favors, according to Missouri Coalition for the Environment. The coalition also supports this alternative.
Alternative C: Higher levels of park visitation and more intensive recreation. Replace five miles of roads in primitive zones with hiking trails and allow vehicular access only to designated sites on gravel bars. Might develop a 25-unit horse camp along the Jacks Fork. Two additional campgrounds, possibly more backcountry and primitive campsites.
Read the alternatives and do some soul searching, good research, and deep thinking. Then please post your comments on the Park Service site. What you say will matter on how the Ozark National Scenic Riverways will be managed for decades to come.
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association.