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Groups appeal to National Parks Service to protect Current, Jacks Fork rivers

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 13, 2011 - Leaders of about a dozen national and state environmental and outdoor groups gathered downtown today to "call on the National Park Service to rehabilitate the Current River, which lies at the heart of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways."

Participants carried canoe paddles as they marched to the Old Courthouse to deliver petitions signed by 5,000 like-minded Missourians to the local office of the National Park Service.

"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."

Mathys said in an interview that today's rally and petition effort is tied to the park service's expected release in a few months of its new general management plan for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which could guide and influence decisisons for the next 20 years.

"We really hope to shine a spotlight on the degradation of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers," Mathys said. The problems are blamed, in part, on people's use of ATVs and SUVs to drive along the riverbanks and into the rivers themselves, tearing up the rock riverbeds.

In a statement, the coalition of environmental groups singled out "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."

Mathys said that the park service recognizes the issues. The environmental groups, he said, want the government to improve the rivers' conditions so that they are closer to their original condition when the scenic riverways' designation was made back in the 1960s.

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is a prime focus of environmental groups because it was the first federal site in the country specifically designated to protect a river system and its banks. More than 1.3 million people a year visit the Ozark riverways, which include such attractions as Alley Mill and Big Spring.

The coalition involved in the petititon drive includes: American Rivers; Audubon Missouri; Environment Missouri; Friends of Ozark Riverways; James River Basin Alliance; Missouri Parks Association; Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region; Ozark Greenways; Ozark Mountain Paddlers; Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club; Sierra Club Missouri Chapter; Saint Louis Adventure Group.

Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.

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