A Special Connection to the Ozarks
Today’s guest blog is from John Whitaker, a long-time supporter of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The Ozark Riverways were listed as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2011, and a big decision is about to be made by the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the management of this special place.
I was born and raised in Salem, Missouri. My family farm (where my parents still reside) is an 18 minute drive from Tan Vat, which is my favorite "put-in" on the Current River. (The Current and Jacks Fork Rivers comprise the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, or ONSR.) Overnight float trips and quail hunts along the stream played a defining role in my childhood, and every time I am home, I make the trip to its banks.
While I now live in Raleigh, NC, many members of my family and friends still call Salem home. Many of us support an update to the National Park Service’s General Management Plan (GMP) for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The health and beauty of the ONSR is what we love, what we promote to visitors, and what we would be wise to protect and improve for the future.
Tourism dollars are the economic lifeblood of Salem and surrounding towns. Some residents associate any kind of new regulations as a threat to tourism. I disagree, and would argue that there is just as much reason to believe that this update to the GMP will boost river use and the local economy. This is our opportunity to insist that the NPS use the GMP update to provide management that broadens the types of visitors we hope to attract. Many users of the ONSR do not approve of the party atmosphere that has evolved on the Current River under the existing 1984 NPS GMP. These types of visitors show little respect for the natural environment of the ONSR or the quality of experience for anyone else on the rivers. They do spend money in the area through canoe and campsite rentals and purchasing alcohol, although most of the alcohol is purchased where they depart, before they ever arrive in the counties bordering the ONSR. This group of users is a minority, and their contribution to our economy is a small sliver of a larger, more diverse economic potential.
Those of us from Missouri have the good fortune of living close to this National Park that was set aside for all Americans to enjoy. These streams offer endless recreational options, and a large contribution to Missouri’s economy. Those of us who have grown up around the ONSR must accept that with these gifts, as the population of river users increase, comes the responsibility to adapt our habits to protect and preserve the natural quality of the park that we seek in the first place.
With better NPS management, the park can attract a diverse population of naturalists and recreation enthusiasts. Families will again feel comfortable and welcome in the ONSR. They will rent canoes on summer weekends, take winter hikes to visit notable springs and tributaries, experience views of the river from high country trails on horseback. They will rent hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in surrounding towns, and maybe even tour a future museum that presents the history of settlement in the Ozark Riverways and reveals the artifacts and mystery left behind by those who walked these valleys thousands of years ago. Most importantly they will experience the unique and indescribable beauty of the ONSR and understand why those of us whose lives and livelihood are intertwined with these streams fiercely defend them.
Please join me in signing this petition to the National Park Service in support of their draft management plan for the Ozark Riverways!