Word comes through the news that the Missouri State Park system is creating a new park on the site of the former Camp Zoe. This is about 90 percent welcome news.
First, the good-news part. A tract of this size, this close to the Current River, is almost impossible to find. Had it been sold to a private developer, it would likely have been parceled out into speculative five-acre lots with the promise of future improvements that would likely not have occurred. Almost every county in the Ozarks has one of those would-be vacation paradises sitting undeveloped and abandoned, with a few one-acre, two-acre, or five-acre lots bought and built and the rest waiting for the inevitable tax sale. Or, it would have been developed into an exclusive private preserve, sealed off from public enjoyment for decades to come.
In addition, Sinking Creek has become one of Missouri’s few naturalized trout streams, and the odds of that creek remaining a favorable habitat for trout dramatically improve with a portion of it under state control and oversight. I don’t expect the park system to try to develop it for trout fishing, since there are already plenty of good trout parks in the state, but my point is that there will be a much closer watch on the total ecosystem in that area, which has already suffered plenty of environmental insults in the past.
Finally, there’s the economic benefit. Shannon County is a depressed area by any measure, and even the simple boost of the massive construction project alone will provide a big one-time jolt to the local economy. The ongoing benefits are impossible to measure, but they will be positive. Ask any local resident who lives near Sam A. Baker State Park, Cuivre River State Park, or Elephant Rocks State Park whether they’re glad to have them nearby. The local legislator quoted in the recent Salem News article about the park, who called it a “threat” to the “rights and the money of the taxpayers,” was spouting politicized nonsense of a special order.
But there are concerns as well. First, I’d have to say that the economic benefits are being oversold, as we also see in the Salem News article. The magical “multiplier effect” of economic benefits is a common trope of those is the public development biz, but I’ve never seen it touted at the laughable, nonsensical ratio of 26:1 before. That’s just nonsense. Leland and Crystal Payton, in their admirable book Damming the Osage, describe the sad history of economic wishful thinking as it applied to the creation of Truman Reservoir. This project doesn’t involve the kind of large-scale destruction that one did, of course, but it’s worth keeping in mind that forecasts of economic paradise are always baloney.
I’m also mildly concerned about all the talk of this park being described as appealing to the “upscale market” and other such code words for “people who spend more money than the usual state park visitor.” It’s true that state parks have to pay something back to the government for their maintenance and upkeep, but let’s not forget that a park system is a public trust, not a profit-making enterprise. A state park that chases too much after the luxury clientele that is better served by a private resort has forgotten its purpose for existence — to provide recreation for all the people, not just those who can afford it. Let’s hope the managers of this new park keep that mission in mind.