February 11, 2014 Updated: February 11, 2014 at 8:17 pm
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Business owners and visitors who use the Ozark National Scenic Riverways asked state lawmakers Tuesday to do whatever they can to stop the federal government's plan for possible changes to how the national park is managed.
The park users told a House panel that the National Park Service's proposal to overhaul management of spring-fed Current and Jacks Fork rivers would harm the local economy, restrict tourism along the waterways and drive local companies out of business.
"They are taking our campgrounds, taking our motor boats and taking our business," said Nancy Brewer, a member of the Eminence Chamber of Commerce whose family owns an ice company near the park.
After three decades under the current management plan, the park service has presented four future options for operating the park. Three would change management to impose varying levels of regulations and restrictions on the riverways. The fourth alternative is to leave the existing management plan in place.
Park officials' preferred option would close 65 miles of undesignated horse trails and unauthorized stream crossings, add restrictions on the use of motorized boats, and make hiking paths out of 150 miles of off-road trails currently used by all-terrain vehicles. Another 35 miles of approved horse trails would be created.
Rick Mansfield, of the Ozarks Heritage Project, called that plan draconian and said it was based on "sheer ignorance."
But not everyone who spoke before the House Wetlands Management Issue Development Committee criticized the park system's plans. Doug Brown, a Chesterfield resident and frequent park-goer, said the proposal would implement important environmental protections that would allow for future enjoyment of the rivers.
"Allowing the river and park to continue to degrade is an irreversible course of action. You can't bring it back if it's destroyed," he said.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon backed the federal government's preferred plan last week. He called the proposal the "most reasonable approach," but asked the park service to be flexible in enforcing restrictions on outdoor activities.
The Democratic governor's endorsement put him at odds with several prominent Republicans who are advocating for the state to take over management of the park. Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said Monday that he was "shocked and dismayed" at Nixon's decision and urged the governor to rescind it.
"It is a disgrace to the office of the chief executive of Missouri," Kinder said. "I don't know why the chief executive of our state does not have more confidence in our people."
The committee chairman, Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, said he would gather additional information on the issue and make a recommendation on possible action to House leadership. The Republican-led House also is considering a resolution that would ask the park service to maintain the current management plan.
Opponents of the park system plans also are hopeful that Congress will act. Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, who represents the area and opposes the government's proposal, introduced legislation this week to give Missouri control of the riverways.
A period of public comment on the proposals concluded last week. Park Superintendent Bill Black said in a written statement on Monday that a final proposal would be ready this summer.