Support Ozark Riverways!
This is a guest blog from Friends of Ozark Riverways, a local group that is “promoting a respectful management approach for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.”
The National Park Service has released its General Management Plan for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, with comments due by February 7, 2014. River lovers have been long-awaiting the release of this plan, and a high level of citizen participation is critical to ensuring a well-managed and healthy Riverways for the future.
American Rivers listed the Ozark Riverways among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2011, after decades of rampant proliferation of motor vehicle and horse trails on riverbanks, gravel bars, and wherever they could cross the rivers. The result was erosion, sedimentation, pollution, and overcrowding and conflict among river uses that led many who loved the rivers to stay away. Park managers were unable to stand up to certain politically-backed local interests, and it was easier for regional and national officials to look the other way.
Yet the bluff-lined, dancing Current and Jacks Fork, long the region’s premier streams for paddling, fishing, and other recreation, are well worth saving. These were America’s first federally protected rivers; Congressionally authorized in1964, the 134-mile-long park served as a template for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The region boasts a system of caves and springs unparalleled in North America, and it is an international hotspot of biodiversity, with more than 200 species found nowhere else in the world.
As a result of unprecedented, but highly polarized, public involvement in response to preliminary alternatives in 2009 as well as the Most Endangered Rivers listing, NPS officials at all levels resolved to address the festering problems along the Riverways in the new management plan, which contains a very reasonable range of alternatives.
Friends of Ozark Riverways, an informal coalition of individuals, organizations, and businesses united by our love and respect for the Riverways and our desire to see its rich natural and cultural heritage well managed and protected for future generations, believes that the NPS-preferred Alternative B provides the best balance between protection and established uses, though some of our members support the environmentally preferred Alternative A. We are concerned that the new development envisioned in Alternative C relies too heavily on increased funding and staffing that may not materialize.
Unfortunately, the public review process has already been clouded by strident rhetoric emanating from certain politically-backed segments of the local population and directed against the National Park Service and its purported threat to local access and property rights. Some even advocate that the Riverways be “reclaimed” by the state. We know that there are many people in Ozark communities who want to see better management and encouragement of a family-friendly atmosphere and who believe that this is key to the health of the rivers and their local economies, but they are reluctant to speak out.
This is why it is so imperative that others who love the rivers express their views by commenting on the GMP in a constructive way by February 7. More than 88 percent of the spending attributable to the Riverways that fuels the local economy is by visitors from outside the region. We all have a stake in the health of this priceless resource and now is the time to make our views known.
For more information about the GMP and suggestions for submitting your own comments, click here.