Some of my fondest memories growing up are camping with my family in the Ozarks in Missouri state parks; so, of course, when I had kids I took them to the same state parks and took them camping. They loved waking up in a tent, cooking over a fire, fishing and floating on the crystal clear streams. We are lucky living in a state with one of the finest state park systems in the country.
That could all change for future generations.
Missouri State Parks is gearing up for its centennial in 2017 but if the Missouri legislature has anything to do with it, they would like to chop it off at its knees, More than a dozen bills are currently active which would damage existing parks, wreak havoc on new parkland, and no doubt directly affect the residents and economy of Missouri. This on top of the incredible damage already caused by the General Assembly last year when they removed $40 million for infrastructure targeting rehabilitation in parks statewide, and refused re-appropriation for an additional $15 million that had been previously authorized.
This year, State Rep. Robert Ross (R-Houston) introduced HB 2187, which would require the state to sell 4,200 acres along the pristine Eleven Point River already acquired for a park using settlement funds from lead mining damages. (Ever hear of mitigation funds? This is when big corporations pay fines and fees for damage occurred and those funds are spent, typically elsewhere, to make up for all of the environmental damage caused at the site.) The Eleven Point was one of the initial rivers designated in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. It is glorious.
The bill passed the House and has been voted “do pass” from a Senate committee. Rep. Ross is also proposing HJR 101, already reported from committee. It would repeal the Parks, Soils, and Water Sales Tax and replace it with a new version that would require the Department of Natural Resources to pay property taxes on all state parks acquired since 1985.
Apparently, legislators are not doing their homework. (I am sure you are not surprised by this revelation.) State Parks already make payments in lieu of taxes for five years while new parks are developed, and studies have shown that parks result in approximately $26 in regional economic activity and tax payments for every dollar expended by the state. Another bill, SB 682, requiring public notice and local hearings before any land acquisition would hinder the state’s ability to acquire land or negotiate a fair price. Think about it.
Other bills would prevent any land acquisition, including donation or bequest, without approval by both houses. To make matters worse, the House has been deleting some state park items from the various appropriation bills, but the Senate has been trying to restore them.
Are you really going to sit and read this while the people you elected to represent your wishes tear down your state parks and sell them piece-by-piece? Please call or write your Missouri representatives and tell them to save your state parks, not destroy them.
Lynn Youngblood is the Executive Director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net