By Patricia Brown, RN

It’s summer in Missouri, the peak time for canoeing on clear Ozark rivers.

Starting Memorial Day, I spent a week camping on the Jack's Fork River. Instead of the beautiful peace and quiet I was looking for, I saw inappropriate overuse of the river.

Because my father was born in Larkin "Holler" of Shannon County (I also have other relatives there) I have visited this area almost every year for the last 50 years. About 30 years ago I stopped canoeing there during the summer because the noisy crowds made it like a Worlds of Fun ride.

More recently, I've witnessed continued deterioration, with even more noise, and scenic disruption, from development of buildings, motorboats that zip by within yards of me snorkeling so that I almost inhale part of their waves, and bulldozers taking scoops of rock gravel beach.

My father had a chance to "get rich" gravel mining, but he valued the rejuvenation powers of those rivers and instead taught me to love them as they were -- which now stirs me to action. When I see things like this, or that red Allley Springs Mill in so many magazine photos, I get a sinking feeling that the memory of something precious to me has been made obscene.

The National Park Service is in the middle of drafting a General Management Plan that will guide management of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR) -- the Current and Jack’s Fork Rivers -- for the next 20 years. Missourians should know that now is their chance to speak up about the problems confronting this gem of a river system, home to more first-magnitude size springs in one area than anywhere else on Earth.

The updated management plan should address: (1) overdevelopment that has produced a proliferation of illegal access roads used by noisy ATVs and trucks (2) overuse by horses repeatedly crossing the rivers causing E.Coli contamination that harms swimmers and (3) stopping gravel mining. All of these things cause erosion of soil, which smothers the insects that live on the rocks and that the fish eat, destroying river life

As a little girl I sat in one spot on a rock beach, taking in the serene beauty, and gathered many empty snail shells to sew a necklace. In those days all the rocks in the rivers were speckled with black snails. Because of the unlimited numbers of people who visit these rivers now, many little creatures have been trampled to death. This cherished experience won't happen for any little girl now, not in this park.

Some would argue that my opinion should not matter, because I do not live near the rivers. Since my family is from there, I understand why local people would feel protective of the place. Shannon County has many low income residents and they need to maintain all the tourist related business far into the future. They also care about preserving the cultural practices of Ozark river life and its natural beauty. We must all do all we can to assist them.

My 91-year-old cousin from the town of Eminence, which is centrally located in that Ozark Rivers region, once said that she traveled away from them once and was shocked to find that other rivers weren't so crystal clear. She had no need to travel so far away after that. In addition, as a Kansas City area resident, like others who travel to the ONSR, I recognize it as a National Park, and know that all citizens have the standing, and indeed the responsibility to make sure it is well managed.

Now is the time to speak up. The plan being formulated now will guide management of ONSR for the next 20 years. Let’s use this opportunity to fix the problems and restore the rivers to the tranquil and restorative place that I remember from my childhood. We can do it.
Brown is an RN and a member of the Sierra Club and lives in Independence.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Missouri Forum. 7/11