Jay Nixon received a nice parting gift from the Department of Natural Resources a few days before stepping down as governor: a new state park that bears his name.
But Jay Nixon State Park may soon have a new name if Republican lawmakers have their way.
The Missouri House Committee on Conservation and Natural Resources conducted a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 600, which would change the southeastern Missouri park's name to Proffitt Mountain State Park.
Bill sponsor Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, told the committee he has no problem with naming something after the former Democratic governor. His objection, however, centers on the Nixon administration using federal funds designated for lead cleanup to instead buy up private land for new state parks.
“The community was already upset with the (former) governor and the Department of Natural Resources for these actions, and they went ahead and they purchased this land,” he said. “They could have cared less about what the people of this area thought.”
Fitzwater also objected to naming a state park after someone who is still alive.
Nixon could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Department of Natural Resources closed Jay Nixon State Park last week because of "limited access, lack of facilities, and public safety concerns,” agency spokesman Tom Bastian said. He did not specify whether the closure is temporary or permanent.
Land for the state park was purchased in 2015 with money received from a federal lawsuit settlement with American Smelting and Refining Company LLC, also known as ASARCO. The settlement’s primary purpose is to pay for cleaning up areas contaminated by decades of lead mining.
No one testified against the bill Wednesday.
The Sierra Club of Missouri has defended the Nixon administration’s practice of using federal lead cleanup money for land purchases. As Carolyn Amparan with the Sierra Club told St. Louis Public Radio last year, “We believe that it is certainly within the bounds of the settlement agreement that this money be spent on acquiring new land to protect … there was a specific set-aside in the agreement that was designed to protect unspoiled land.”
Jay Nixon State Park is located in Reynolds County, bordering Taum Sauk State Park and a few miles hiking distance from Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park. There are no facilities, as it's designed to cater to hikers and backpackers and has access to the Ozark Trail.
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