- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

ALLEY SPRING, Mo. (AP) - The business model is pretty simple at Harvey’s Alley Spring Canoe Rental.

When boats are on the waters of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Shane and Kim Van Steenis make money. When the boats are empty, as they were during the October government shutdown, so is the cash register.

“They told me if I rented a canoe or anything like that I would be in violation of my contract,” Shane Van Steenis said on a quiet day late last month.

The local politics of the riverways are more complicated, Shane Van Steenis said. He was presiding commissioner of Shannon County in 1992 when he purchased the business from the late Sen. Danny Staples, a Democratic lawmaker from 1977 to 2003. He worked for Staples in Jefferson City and three times ran unsuccessfully for the Missouri House.

Van Steenis understands the resentment toward proposed new rules that has boiled over into calls for the 88,000-acre park to become state property but also knows that is unrealistic. “I know one thing - the state parks don’t want it. The state can’t afford it.”

But that question - whether the state or the federal government should operate the park - isn’t going away. The Missouri House budget plan includes $6 million for the state to operate the park if it receives ownership. U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, filed a bill in Congress to turn the park over to the state at federal expense.

And at 11 a.m. May 3, Rep. Chris Kelly, a Columbia Democrat who supports federal ownership, and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican who is urging state management, will debate the question at the Shannon County Courthouse in Eminence.

The immediate cause of the controversy is a new management plan, proposed late last year. The National Park Service offered four alternatives, including one with no new restrictions or regulations. As its preferred alternative, the Park Service chose a plan to close 65 miles of unauthorized horse trails, ban motors on some stretches of the rivers and nominate 3,430 acres for designation as wilderness.

A final decision, taking into account 4,000 comments, will be made this summer.

“If your question is, should the Park Service work with the local people on rational regulation, I am absolutely in favor of that,” Kelly said. “But that’s not what the lieutenant governor or the congressman or the legislation in the House called for. It called for the abolition of the park, and I think it is so fundamentally un-American.”

Kinder said he will argue that the national riverways designation might have been a good idea in 1964, when Congress authorized the park, but it is time to re-evaluate the decision. “We proudly have an 80-year tradition of one of the strongest departments of conservation in the country and one of the strongest state park systems in the country,” he said. “I am offended by the notion that we Missourians must hand this off to the federal government in perpetuity.”

The Jacks Fork and Current rivers became the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first federally protected rivers, under an act passed by Congress in 1964. The idea for preserving the river corridors, with their numerous large springs and caves, developed over time, beginning with widely publicized float trips in 1909 led by Gov. Herbert Hadley.

Five of the state’s 10 largest springs are either in the park or feed one of the two rivers. Big Spring and Round Spring on the Current and Alley Spring on the Jacks Fork became state parks in 1924. After conservationists defeated a plan for a hydroelectric dam on the Current River, political momentum built for more complete protection.

Congress gave the National Park Service $7 million to buy land, conservation and scenery easements. The park, opened officially in 1971, owns 135 miles of the two rivers that meander through spectacular countryside in Dent, Carter, Shannon and Texas counties.

“One of the reasons for the national significance is the collection of caves and springs,” Superintendent Bill Black said. “When you pull everything together, it is quite a package the American public has here.”

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