Michael Berg

Citizens Rally for Reform on Current River
Coalition delivers nearly 5,000 signatures to National Park Service at Historic Old Courthouse

On Tuesday, December 13, the Missouri Sierra Club and a statewide coalition of other environmental and outdoors groups rallied at St. Louis City Hall to call on the National Park Service to rehabilitate the Current River, which lies at the heart of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Wielding canoe paddles signed by concerned citizens to highlight the Current’s role as Missouri’s premier float stream, the group delivered nearly 5,000 petition signatures to the National Park Service urging reform.

“The Current River is Missouri’s river jewel,” said Ted Mathys, Advocate with Environment Missouri. “But overdevelopment, illegal and unauthorized vehicle use, and torn up trails are taking a terrible toll. This petition unifies thousands of citizens from across the state and around the country who know that it’s time for the Park Service to step up.”

See this article for an excellent overview of the problems with the present management of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

The petition effort comes as the National Park Service prepares to release its new General Management Plan for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in early 2012. The plan will guide Park Service decisions about management of the Riverways for the next 20 years.

The coalition is seeking redress in the new plan for years of deteriorating conditions on the Current River and its major tributary, the Jacks Fork, including a proliferation of motorized vehicle access points to the riverbanks, overdevelopment of primitive camping areas, poor planning for commercial horse rides in the park, and scenic easement violations. In May, American Rivers designated the Ozark National Scenic Riverways one of America’s 10 Most Endangered Rivers, because of overuse and poor management.

“The Current and Jacks Fork Rivers are two of the greatest treasures of the state of Missouri,” said John Hickey, Director of the Sierra Club Missouri Chapter. “Unfortunately, these rivers have become badly impaired, due to a combination of overuse by commercial horse ride operators and of excessive motorized traffic facilitated by illegal roads. For the benefit of all Missourians, thousands of us are asking the National Park Service to take concrete action to address the problems on the rivers.”

Ozark National Scenic Riverways was the first national park area in the country to be specifically designated to protect a wild river system. The park is home to clear flowing rivers fed by abundant springs; striking limestone bluffs and hundreds of caves; unique karst geology; and diverse species of wildlife, including the Ozark Hellbender, a salamander species that was recently added to the federal endangered species list.

Each year, more than 1.3 million people visit the Riverways to float, fish, hike, and camp in the park, and to visit attractions such as Alley Mill and Big Spring.

“The Current River and the Ozark Scenic National Riverways is among Missouri’s greatest land and water resources,” said Ron Coleman, Executive Director of the Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region. “It is the best representation of Ozark natural heritage and deserves the highest level of natural resource protection by the National Park Service."

The National Park Service will release a draft General Management Plan for Ozark National Scenic Riverways in early 2012, indicating the Service’s preferred plan among four preliminary alternatives. These alternatives range from a “no action” plan to a strong plan that would focus on creating visitor experiences and resource conditions reminiscent of those that occurred when the national riverways was established.

The coalition called on National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis to implement strong protections in the new General Management Plan.

Following the event, the coalition marched the petitions to National Park Service offices at the Old Courthouse, to be forwarded to Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.

The event was covered by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the St. Louis Beacon, KWMU Radio, KMOX Radio, KFVS Channel 12 TV, and KY 3 TV.