Kelly, Kinder to debate future of Ozark Scenic Riverways National Park

May 1, 2014

 

The Current River in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways
The Current River in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways
Credit Meredith Turk / KBIA

Deep in the heart of the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri a battles rages over the use of a National Park: The Ozark National Scenic Riverways. This national park is visited by millions each year and was the first federally protected river system, established in 1964.

Last year the park announced a plan to address usage based on what it says is a changing demographic. This is the Ozark National Scenic Riverway's first usage study in 30 years. As new management plans for the park emerge, the debate over federal versus state control is finding its way on the agenda of Missouri politicians.

Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder and Representative Chris Kelly, who started a debate about state versus federal control of the park on Twitter, have agreed to meet for a typical Lincoln-Douglas-style debate about the park management.  The debate is set to take place on May 3, 2013 in Eminence, Missouri.  Their comical debate, seems to represent the two conflicting sides that have been on-going for decades.

Pat Jackson is a national park field ranger in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.  He’s a local man, who grew up along the river and and is now raising his son along the river.  Jackson is convinced that local residents don’t recognize what the federal management has actually done for the river system.

“They don’t understand when they say the park service this or that.  I want to say guys, listen, I’m from here and you don’t realize what we’d have.” Jackson said. “We would have a Branson all the way up through here if we didn’t come through and protect what we have.”

Other local resident disagree, like Eric Mansfield, who runs the Ozark National Heritage Project, disagree. He said the national park has been fraught with poor management.  Mansfield cites historic structures that have fallen apart under the park’s oversight.  He says mismanagement of these historic structures may continue even as the park service says they will try to put more emphasis on local preservation.

Mansfield also said it’s unneeded supervision.

“You can over-regulate to death because the people who spend the majority of their time on this wouldn't want to eat fish out of a polluted stream," Mansfield said. "We don't need regulations for us to be good stewards."

In 2011, Ozark National Scenic Riverways was identified by the non-profit American Rivers as one of the most endangered river systems in the country, citing mismanagement.  

We've put together a Storify of the Twitter exchange between Lt. Gov. Kinder and Rep. Kelly.