COLUMBIA — Environmental advocates and organizations gathered together for a news conference Wednesday at the Alpine Shop to begin an effort to clean up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
Thirteen environmental organizations, including the Missouri Parks Association, the Sierra Club and Environment Missouri, collected almost 5,000 signatures for a petition to end environmentally harmful practices. Signature collection began this summer.
A coalition of environmental organizations sent a petition to the National Park Service on Wednesday to ask for management reforms to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri's largest national park.
The petition asks the National Park Service to address the rivers' maintenance and management issues in the General Management Plan, a plan for the management of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways that will be updated this year.
The plan will be in effect for the next 20 to 25 years, Ozark National Scenic Riverways public information officer Faye Walmsley said. The existing plan has been in use since 1984.
The plan will be available to the public by early spring, Walmsley said. It will incorporate four alternatives for addressing management issues brought up by the petition signers. Members of the public can comment on the plans and discuss which one they prefer.
The riverways, made up of the Current River and its tributary, Jack's Fork, was named one of the nation's top 10 most endangered rivers in 2011 by American Rivers, a non-profit organization that works to preserve rivers and streams.
Together, the Current River and the Jacks Fork are 134 miles long and attract 1.3 million visitors annually. They were the first federally protected rivers in the U.S., Missouri Parks Association President Susan Flader said.
American Rivers cited over-development, the addition of new roads and vehicles and overcrowding as the reasons for endangerment on its website. The large number of horses in the area caused pollution and the destruction of vegetation.
"(The petition) unifies thousands of citizens across the state of Missouri and across the nation and lets them know it's time to step up," Tim Mathys, an advocate for Environment Missouri, said at the conference.
"We're hoping we can get a lot of people from all over the state and country to write comments on the plan," Flader said before the meeting. "I think that there will be a lot of support."
After the news conference at the Alpine Shop, some supporters walked copies of the petition to the Columbia offices of Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt to be passed on to the National Park Service.
However, some people oppose the efforts of the environmental groups. Angel Kruzen, of the Sierra Club, owns a farm on the river. She said she knows of locals who 've removed barriers set up to keep people off of the illegal and environmentally harmful roadways.
In 2007, there were 136 of these illegal and multiplying roadways. Flader said she believes there are many more that have gone unreported.
Kruzen has also noticed that the rivers suffer from heavy pollution from horse manure. Her organization did a study which found more than 800 miles of horse trails around the rivers.
The coalition hopes that the National Park Service will solve these issues and improve its management of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and the rivers that bring visitors and beauty to Missouri.
"We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to set a new course for the rivers," Mathys said.