National Park Service Says Pick A, B or C
Last week I described the Ozark National Scenic Riverways National Park (ONSR,) and I provided a heads up about the ongoing public comment period regarding what potentially could be significant changes in the way the National Park Service (NPS) manages Missouri’s largest national park. Today, I’ll give you what is, at best, a thumbnail sketch of the differences among the four alternatives, gleaned from a document that’s well over 500 pages in length.
By law, the NPS had to provide the alternative of making no changes in the park’s management plan, but since there’s virtually no chance this option will be chosen, I’ll make no further mention of it.
Alternative A stresses maintaining the integrity of the park’s land and water, even when doing so comes at the expense of public use.
Opportunities for nonmotorized floats on secluded stretches would increase, and the river miles allocated to motorized watercraft would decrease. In addition, the federal regulation limiting outboard motor horsepower to what the original manufacturer claimed would be enforced.
Hiking trail mileage would increase, primarily by converting interior roads to hiking trails and by increasing the percentage of the park zoned either natural or primitive. Horseback riding would take it on the chin. While the plan calls for “25 miles of additional designated horse trails,” the same paragraph describes a “23-mile-long horse trail system,” as if it were the only horseback riding opportunity. About 65 miles of existing, but undesignated, horse trails would be closed as would all undesignated stream crossings. Backcountry and primitive camp sites would still be allowed, but roads leading to primitive campsites would be closed. In all, this alternative would close 50 miles of vehicle roads.
Alternative B, which the NPS prefers, notes that “traditional recreational activities, such as floating, boating and horseback riding would still be provided.”
The percentage of the rivers zoned for nonmotorized use, including low density use, would increase at the expense of motorized usage. However, the NPS would pledge to seek a formal change in the regulations governing outboard motors to legally allow 60 horsepower motors, whose jet drives produce 40 effective horsepower, to be used. At present, the NPS is turning a blind eye toward these motors.
Horseback users lose 65 miles of undesignated trails and stream crossings, but they not only gain the 25 miles of additional trails called for in Alternative A, but B’s language appears to make the 23-mile-long trail part of a larger whole. There would be campground for horseback users. Two additional land-accessible campgrounds would be built, but vehicle access to most gravel bars and all primitive campsites would be eliminated. In all about 45 miles of roads would be closed.
Alternative C places the most emphasis on human use of the park. Note that this alternative by no means ignores the NPS’s primary mission, which is to protect the natural and cultural environments under its purview. Therefore, visitors should expect “more intensive management” and “higher levels of social interaction.”
While all sections of the riverways would be open to year-round use by nonmotorized boaters, as is the case in the other two alternatives, the percentage of the park’s riverways available to motorized users would be larger. The NPS would work to make the unofficial 60/40 horsepower rule legal by working to change the current regulation.
Additional hiking trails would be opened, including about 5 miles of road-to-trail conversions leading to primitive campsites. Horseback users would get 45 miles of new designated trails and a 25-campsite horse campground along the Jacks Fork River. Sixty-five miles of undesignated horse trails and their associated stream crossings would be closed.
Campers would see an increase in the total number of sites, and some gravel bar campsites would be accessible by vehicle. Backcountry campsites would be located throughout the park except in primitive zones. Primitive sites would still be available, but vehicle access to them would be eliminated. This alternative calls for restoring natural conditions to about 40 miles of roads.
In the interest of full disclosure, a frequent horseback user of the ONSR encouraged me to explore this subject. It’s been many years since I last straddled a horse, and I may never do so again. I am sympathetic to their plight, though. For one thing, it’s hard to imagine that all 65 miles of undesignated horse trails are unacceptably environmentally destructive. Then too, the ONSR is already home to about 50 feral horses, and plans to improve pastoral habitat will increase that number. These horses not only cross streams wherever they please, but they also spend a lot of time standing in them during the hot weather months.
But no matter what you think, please take the time to express your opinion to the NPS. If you’re having trouble with the website I supplied last week, try http://parkplanning.nps.gove/OZAR. The page will list 51 projects. Click on the top one, then click on the Comment tab.