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Health, Science, Environment

Environmentalists urge National Park Service to protect the Current River

Updated at 6:10 pm to add Congresswoman Emerson's response.

A coalition of environmental groups and advocates has submitted about 5,000 signed petitions to the National Park Service, urging the agency to do more to protect the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri. The coalition is pushing for more enforcement and a stronger management plan for the Current and Jacks Fork rivers.

The environmentalists say overdevelopment, overuse and illegal vehicle access are taking their toll on the Ozark’s Current River system.

Speaking at a press conference, the director of the Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club, John Hickey, said his group would like the National Park Service to do three things.

“Number one, shut the illegal roads that allow ATVs to get in to the rivers. Number two, end the E. coli contamination in the Jacks Fork River caused by excessive horse use. And number three, enforce the scenic easements in the park so people aren’t building buildings and cabins right on the river in the park,” Hickey said.

Kally Higgins of the advocacy group Friends of Ozark Riverways said the Park Service hasn’t done enough to protect the Current River and its major tributary, the Jacks Fork.

“We want a strong general management plan, and we want a strong new superintendent, because quite frankly a general management plan is only as good as a superintendent who will enforce it, and enforce it consistently,” Higgins said.

But Republican Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson says there has to be a balance. Emerson represents Missouri’s 8th district, which includes the Ozarks.

She says jobs are critical right now, and people in her district have made their living off river tourism for generations.

"I really am quite resentful of people who would like to close all of this area off to wilderness for example, so that people can come in and enjoy it but yet nobody could make a living off the land. I don’t think that that’s appropriate," Emerson said.

The National Park Service is expected to release a new draft general management plan for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways by the spring of 2012.

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