So the Missouri Governor’s Office has announced the creation of three more state parks in the Ozarks: Ozark Mountain, about a thousand acres northwest of Branson; Bryant Creek, almost three thousand acres in the deep forest southeast of Ava; and Eleven Point, more than four thousand acres in Oregon County, near Alton.
I’d heard of the Eleven Point acquisition already, and in fact I spoke about it (and the Echo Bluff State Park acquisition) at the most recent Ozark Studies Symposium. The local officials who opposed acquiring the Eleven Point land were, in my opinion, coming more from a political position than one focused on the long-term benefit for their county; as any county official in the Ozarks can tell you, parks draw tourists, and tourists spend money, with the added sales tax revenue more than making up for the lost property tax revenue. But you can bet that there will be a fresh chorus of opposition after this announcement.
Part of it will come from the timing. The announcement has an in-your-face quality to it, given that the term-limited governor will leave office next month. His successor didn’t win office based on policy proposals; his main argument for election was that he used to be a Navy SEAL. But his general tenor was of the small-government variety, and it’s hard to imagine him authorizing the aggressive acquisition of new parkland for the state.
The other part of the criticism will come from the source of the money. As the governor’s press release puts it with convenient vagueness, “Money for the purchases came from settlements reached with mining companies that had operated in the state.” More precisely, that money came from settlements that were supposed to mitigate the environmental damage caused by lead smelting operations in the southeast part of the state. Although the use of that money for these purchases is probably legal in the strictest sense, it’s stretching the definition of environmental mitigation about as far as it can be stretched to include the purchase of some scrubland north of Branson. Representatives from the Lead Belt regions will complain, and rightly so, that the money was supposed to be used in their area.
Still, it’s worth remembering that the Missouri state park system is just about the best in the country. Legislators who gripe that “we can’t take care of the ones we’ve got already” (I can hear it now) should remember that they are the ones who cause that lack of funding by their own decisions and party agendas. Although the details of this particular announcement make me sigh for the days when lawmakers from both parties would work together on a decision that was advantageous to the state overall, I have to recognize that we are not living in such times. I hope that a generation from now, people will take delight in these parks and leave the bickering over how they came into being for the footnotes of the historians.