Despite Transition, Business as Usual for Federally-Managed Missouri Lands

Feb 7, 2017

The National Parks Service logo is displayed prominently on the Harry S. Truman Historical Site headquarters.
Credit Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

Two weeks into the Trump administration, several cabinet-level positions remain open, including the Secretary of the Interior, who is responsible for federal lands in Missouri and other states. The issue of federal lands has become increasingly controversial, and some Missouri lawmakers have even called for Washington to give up control of National Parks Service land. Despite this uncertainty, life goes on for many of those in charge of managing federal land in the state.

When you hear the words “National Park Service,” The Harry S. Truman National Historic Site in Independence, Missouri, might not be the first image to pop into your mind. But when you visit the historical home of 33rd president, one of the first things you notice is the uniforms.

From the tour-guides to site superintendent Carol Dage, the people who tend to the site wear their distinctive uniform: the olive drab green trousers and stiff-brimmed flat hats of the National Parks Service.

Dage explained sites like the Truman home, "are pretty typical. We have a number of presidential sites, and just other sites related to history that are important to our country." 

The Truman house was Harry and Bess's home starting with their marriage in 1919, and served as the Summer White House during his presidency.
Credit Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

First Lady Bess Truman bequeathed the home to the National Parks Service, and it came under the service’s protection after her death in 1982. What's remarkable about the Truman site, Dage said, is that, "When it was given, it was given with all original furnishings."

For example, the wallpaper in the kitchen is still worn down around the light switches, and pictures of the Trumans’ grandchildren still adorn the mantelpiece in the sitting room. The preservation of the site and these furnishings is primarily the job of the Parks Service, and despite the transition, that hasn’t changed.

"We have a specific mission, and no matter what administration it is, we continue to preserve and protect through all of those administrations," Dage said.

The National Parks Service isn’t the only Department of Interior body that manages land in Missouri. About 150 miles down the Missouri River from Independence lies the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

Tim Haller, a park ranger and visitor services coordinator at the refuge, echoed Dage’s sentiment on the transition.

The Missouri River runs along the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge near Booneville, Missouri.
Credit Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

"Our mission pretty much stays the same," Haller explained. "Higher up in the administration there probably is significant amount of change, but here on the refuge, our mission is primarily focused on reestablishing wildlife habitat and working with wildlife habitat."

This portion of the refuge runs along the Missouri near Booneville, and was created after the 1993 flood. Walking out to the river the open floodplain on the opposite bank, Haller notes, is state-owned.

The biggest potential shake-up to both state and federal public lands is the growing calls from some activists and legislators for those lands to be sold. Last year’s standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon highlighted some of the resentments ranchers have with public lands.

On the opposite bank of the river lies the Missouri Department of Conservation Diana Bend Conservation Area.
Credit Sebastián Martinez / KBIA

Ranchers in Southeastern Missouri have expressed similar resentments, and Missouri legislators last year tried to stop the establishment of a new state park in Oregon county Missouri, with some arguing the land should be used for grazing instead. Those drastic changes don’t look likely at a federal level, at least. 

President Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Interior, Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana, has said in the past that he is against the transfer and sale of public lands. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Zinke’s nomination last month without much opposition, but the full senate has yet to vote on his confirmation.