Park Service extends Riverways comment deadline

ST. LOUIS | The National Park Service has given people more time to comment on proposals to manage the use of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways national park in southern Missouri.

Park service officials said Friday that Web site problems may have prevented some people from submitting comments by the July 31 deadline. So far, they have received 874 e-mailed comments and more than 1,000 on paper. The new deadline is Sept. 11.

The park service held five public meetings this summer about managing the 134 miles of river and 80,000 acres of park, arguably Missouri’s most important piece of public land.

The Park Service has proposed three plans that present a range of how much development would be permitted and what restrictions on water vehicles would be allowed. Two of them would designate 3,400 acres in the Big Spring area as wilderness. A fourth plan would take no action.

A final plan will replace one from 1984 and will help guide decisions for the next 15 to 20 years.

Opinions often clash among the park’s more than 1 million annual visitors. Some want more motorized boating, or trails for all-terrain vehicles or back-country horseback riding. Others prefer quiet floating, fishing or caving.

Park spokeswoman Elisa Kunz said the staff plans to meet this fall with groups to try to reach consensus on “diametrically opposed” positions on use of the 45-year-old park. Consideration of the resource is paramount, she said.

Compounding the debate are business interests in economic development zones established within the park boundaries near the towns of Eminence and Van Buren. The park, which preceded passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, was an experiment in appeasing economic development and political interests of the time, Kunz said.

Heavy use of horse trails in the economic development zone adjacent to the park, and the animal excrement that comes with that, can affect the quality of the spring-fed rivers’ water.

State Rep. J.C. Kuessner, whose House district includes the park, said Friday that many of the people living around the river fear more restrictions — particularly on motor boats, which he says operate safely on the river and help save lives by assisting swamped canoes.