While the National Park Service considers the thousands of comments it received last winter there is an effort underway to strip the Ozark National Scenic Riverways of its designation as a National Park.
The National Park Service is currently considering the thousands of comments it received this last winter on an updated General Management Plan.
The General Management Plan will guide policies and practices in the Riverways for decades to come. It sets priorities for resources, staffing, and activities. The draft plan presents three alternative approaches which are outlined below.
In the Riverways, unauthorized roads, overuse by all terrain vehicles and excessive equestrian use in sensitive areas have contributed to degradation including increased bank erosion, more sediment in the water, reduced habitat quality, and unsafe bacteria levels in certain river stretches. Re-directing high impact activities to areas where damage is minimized, establishing levels of use that enable the rivers to maintain quality, allowing damaged areas to heal, and organizing activities with respect for the natural resources are the keys to stewardship of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. With your input, management of high impact activities can be integrated fairly into a GMP that preserves fishing, floating, hiking, boating, and wildlife habitat.
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment has supported policies that help restore and preserve outstanding water quality and habitat values, address threats to water quality, and maintain the quality of the Riverways for this and future generations.
Main Message: Strengthen the Management of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways through completion of a new General Management Plan (the current plan dates from 1989).
What the plan does:
The draft plan proposes management zones for land and water uses that vary in extent for each of three alternatives. The land-based zones are:
See maps of the zones for each alternative on pages 61, 67, 75 and 81 in the plan and a comparison of alternatives in Table 13 on pages 125-30 here.
This park’s problems have included the seemingly ever-expanding presence of motorized vehicles and their maze of eroded tracks in riparian areas and on gravel bars; the explosive growth of equestrian use and proliferation of undesignated trails and river crossings (many of which are in sensitive riverine areas or on steep, heavily-eroded slopes); overcrowding in certain reaches of the rivers and resulting conflicts among user groups, coupled with the rowdy behavior of some visitors; and inadequate monitoring and enforcement of scenic easements.
Though people will differ in their views of which alternative is best, we support the Friends of Ozark Riverways belief that the National Park Service has provided a reasonable range of alternatives and deserves support for its commitment to dealing with serious problems that have developed over the years.
However, the Riverways has seen a 30% reduction in staff in the last decade, owing to decreases in funding, and there is no guarantee that funds will be enhanced to the levels anticipated by the plan alternatives. That is one reason to approach with caution higher cost alternatives that feature increased development and more intensive use like those presented in Alternative C. We favor maintaining visitation at approximately the current level while emphasizing improvements that are less demanding in terms of staff and more conducive to family recreation.
Each of the action alternatives provides for:
Alternative A. The National Park Service identifies Alternative A as the environmental preferable alternative. It emphasizes traditional, non-mechanized recreation and visitor experiences that are quieter, less crowded and slower-paced. To reduce motorized intrusion it would close unauthorized roads, traces and river accesses, restore 50 miles of such roads to native vegetation, replace 15 miles of undesignated roads within primitive management zones with hiking trails, and no longer allow motor vehicles on gravel bars (walk-in or float-in day use and camping still allowed). To reduce equestrian overuse it would add 25 more miles of designated horse trails, close and restore 65 miles of undesignated horse trails, improve the design of the 23 miles of currently designated horse trails, and consider establishing a permit system for horse use within the park. To improve visitor experience and reduce conflicts among users, there would be more hiking trails, more motor-free zones, and redistribution or limit of commercial services. There are some staffing increases.
Alternative B. The National Park Service prefers this alternative. It would enhance opportunities for visitors to learn about the park’s natural and cultural resources, and provide a balance of diverse recreational opportunities with increased opportunities for education and appreciation of park resources. To reduce motorized intrusion it would close undesignated roads and access points, restore 45 miles of such roads to natural condition, convert 10 miles of roads in primitive zones to hiking trails and reduce and designate camp sites on gravel bars open to vehicles. To reduce equestrian overuse it would add 35 miles of designated horse trails, close and restore 65 miles of undesignated horse trails and unauthorized river crossings, improve the design of the 23-mile long designated horse trail system to avoid sensitive areas, establish a permit system for horse use within the park, and may allow for designated horse camping sites. To improve visitor experience, there would be a new learning center and visitor contact station at Powder Mill; two additional campgrounds at existing day use areas at Akers on the Current and Blue Spring on the Jack’s Fork; additional trails; a resumed oral history program, discovery sites, and enhancement of archive and museum collections; and strengthened monitoring, research, and preservation projects. The Cedar Grove low water crossing would be replaced with a high-water bridge. Waste systems in the park would be improved. There are staffing increases under this alternative.
Alternative C. would accommodate higher levels of park visitation and more intensive recreation while striving to maintain the scenic natural setting and protect cultural resources. To reduce motorized intrusion it would close undesignated roads and access points, restore 40 miles of such roads to natural conditions, replace five miles of roads in primitive zones with hiking trails, and allow vehicular access only to designated sites on gravel bars. To reduce equestrian overuse it would add 45 miles of designated horse trails, and close 65 miles of undesignated trails and river crossings; it might also develop a 25-unit horse camp along the Jacks Fork. Visitor experiences would include two additional campgrounds, possible more backcountry and primitive campsites, more interaction among visitors and higher resource impacts especially in higher use area. Staffing levels would increase the most under this alternative to provide for more use and more monitoring and mitigation of impacts to resources.
The 1989 plan is due for an update in order to reverse the degradation of the Riverways. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways deserves an increased investment of staff and resources to ensure it retains its quality as Missouri's own 'Yellowstone'.
We prefer Alternative B, with some additions and qualifications, because it:
Additionally, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment supports the following changes:
MCE urges the National Park Service to approach the designation of mountain bike trails with care for the vulnerabilities of the landscape so that erosion, impacts to biodiversity and water quality are minimized.
Friends of Ozark Riverways agrees with NPS that Alterative B provides the most balance among the three alternatives, though some of our organizations and members may favor the environmentally preferable Alternative A or a mix of elements from alternatives A and B. Alternative B would provide more staff for maintenance, monitoring and enforcement while substantially enhancing visitor experience of park resources. We believe that several improvements could strengthen the plan:
Tell the NPS...What You Think
Use words that reflect your own particular experience, interests and concerns and share them with the NPS at one of the public meetings (see below), on line or by mail by February 7th: