The Eleven Point River flows for more than 100 miles through Oregon County, and right through the heart of the almost 4,200 acres the Department of Natural Resources recently bought to create a new state park. The river starts just north of the small town of Thomasville: home to the Eleven Point Cafe.
Like a lot of people in the county, the cafe's owner Jamie Warren is conflicted about the new park. "I think it could bring in a lot of tourists and it could help the economy, but it’s going to take a fight," Warren said. "I’m like most of the locals: we hate change."
Across the street, 86-year-old Thomasville native Carl Williams thinks the new park would be good for the county, but agrees it’ll be tough to realize. "It would help it, immensely. But you’ve got your hands full when you’re fighting Alton," Williams said. He’s referring to the county seat, where the county commissioners have come out against the new park.
"They’re against anything new, afraid they’ll lose control. There’s a few there they’re afraid they’ll lose control of the place," Williams added.
The commissioners argue the federal and state government already own a fifth of the land in Oregon County, and that the local tax revenue would drop when more private lands move public.
Some of the land the DNR bought had been leased for cattle ranching, a significant source of employment for the county. DNR offered the leasees the chance to buy land and were turned down. But the commissioners still fear it will hurt the county’s economy. Still, even in Alton, the park has its supporters.
Christy Parrot, who owns Hometown Café on Alton’s court square, think the park could be a good thing. "I think it would bring people in, tourism in and I think it’d be good for the local economy, the businesses," Parrot said.
A lifelong Alton resident, Parrot says the area hasn’t changed much in her life, and she sees the county as resistant to change. "There have always been certain groups of people that have kind of been the main people with the money and the social class," Parrot said. "I think they like their social status the way it is and they don't want things to change."
But it’s unclear if the question of whether the park would change Oregon County for better or for worse will ever be answered. The two bills to force the DNR to auction the land have stalled in the state legislature, and even if they passed, the governor would likely veto them.