KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Motorboats, horseback riding and river access would be restricted in some areas of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways under a draft management plan released Friday.
The riverways are under the direction of the National Park Service, which oversees sections of the Jacks Fork and Current rivers, along with stretches of nearby creeks and streams within the park. The public has 60 days to comment on the plan that will direct management of the national park area, the first in the country specifically designated to protect a wild river system, for about the next two decades.
Environmentalists long have sought changes for the riverways, which they say are mismanaged. About 1.3 million visitors come to the park area each year to canoe and kayak, fish and camp, and ride horses and all-terrain vehicles. The spring-fed river system is also home to the Ozark hellbender, a salamander subspecies that exists only in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.
The draft includes three different alternatives, with varying levels of restrictions, along with a no-action proposal. The park service is backing the middle-of-the-road alternative, which includes adding a small learning center near the town of Eminence and more trails.
Each of the three alternatives would place new restrictions on motorboats, barring them from some areas of the rivers or requiring lower speeds. Twenty access areas where float-trip outfitters drop off and pick up participants would close or move, depending on the alternative.
In areas that the park service seeks to keep wild and natural, five to 15 miles of roads would be removed, depending on the alternative, and replaced with hiking trails.
Horseback riders would notice changes as well. The area currently has 23 miles of designated horse trails and at least 90 miles of undesignated trails. The alternatives would close and restore about 65 miles of undesignated trails, replacing them with 25 to 45 miles of designated trails, depending on the option selected. The park service-backed alternative would allow horse camping in designated sites, something that is currently banned.