Just last week, the Missouri State Parks website was still proudly boasting its newest parks, including the Eleven Point State Park in Oregon County and the Bryant Creek State Park in Ozark County.
By Monday morning, following the publication of an article in the Saturday St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the page linking to those parks was deactivated, and the Eleven Point State Park page, under Park Information, bore only two words: “Park Closed.”
Governor Eric Greitens has closed the parks – indefinitely and with no explanation. His office did not respond to the Quill’s request for information or comment.
A cached version of the page previously preserved by Google and dated Aug. 9 gave the park’s location and description and invited public feedback.
“Located near Alton, the park features six miles of direct river frontage on the Eleven Point River, a nationally protected river corridor, and will offer a truly wild and scenic experience,” read the park information section in that version.
“Visitors will also experience expansive views across the Eleven Point valley,” it continued. “The park also includes rugged forest-covered hills, fields, woodlands streams and springs. Another feature of the park is the a large house on what was historically known as the Pigman Ranch, which hosted the Beatles in 1964.”
WEB PAGES PULLED
Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director of Communications Connie Patterson said the pages were pulled after the Post-Dispatch article brought them to the department’s attention.
“We are in the midst of a comprehensive review of our website and these pages needed to be updated to more accurately reflect the current status of these facilities,” she said.
Among the pulled pages was a Jan. 24 post by former State Parks Director Bill Bryan, who was relieved from his position as Missouri Governor Greitens’ administration took leadership early this year. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited that post as saying both Eleven Point and Bryant Creek parks were intended to be minimally developed.
“[Those] parks will provide a gateway for people to get into the backcountry, either on foot or by water,” the Post-Dispatch quoted Bryan as saying. A third park, Ozark Mountain State Park in Taney County, was expected to be more of a day-use park.
As far as updates, it would appear that there aren’t many.
“No decision has been made on these facilities,” said Patterson.
The land, purchased under former Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration to be used as parks, will sit idle indefinitely, Patterson confirmed.
The purchase of the 4,167 acres of Oregon County land by Nixon’s administration was met with consternation by local residents when plans were announced in fall 2015. Some felt it was happening too sneakily. Others worried about the loss of tax revenue and cattle grazing land.
Most who spoke to the Quill offered one common sentiment.
“It would be a shame if anything bad happened to it,” said county residents familiar with the land on which sits the old Pigman Ranch, most recently occupied by Buildings 4 Babies who sold it to DNR. The man behind that organization, Dale Schamel, told the Quill last year that the sale was an answer to a long-standing prayer and had to be carried out quietly to prevent the possibility of someone with less noble intentions disrupting the sale.
Those who talked to the Quill said they want to see the buildings kept up and cared for, the history preserved, every bit as much as they want to see the land cared for – regardless of how they feel about the state’s ownership and creation of a park.
Legislators in Jefferson City attempted to pass a couple dozen bills regulating how the land could be used or even if it could be used at all, seven of which were penned by 142nd District Rep. Robert Ross (R-Yukon). Some of these bills would have forced the state to sell the land back to the county.
Due “in large part” to the efforts of Sierra Club activists in Howell and Oregon County, none of those bills passed, according to Sierra Club Ozarks Conservation Program Coordinator Jennifer Conners.
“We’d gone up to Jefferson City lobbying with Sierra Club, and this (park) was one of the things we were concerned about,” said Sierra Club member Justin Mutrux of Willow Springs. He and wife Mary Ann, also a club member, shared their thoughts on the Greitens’ administration’s action to stop development on the parks.
‘HARD FOR ME TO UNDERSTAND’
Justin said at one point he owned a large farm near Montauk State Park in Dent County.
He said, many people were employed at that park, even his own children during the summers, that he is scratching his head.
“It was a giant benefit to the community,” he said. “It’s hard for me to understand why Gov. Greitens is doing this.”
Mary Ann said a majority of Missourians support state parks, which have, in her mind, become a political chess piece for unrelated issues. She asserted that the Eleven Point park has the potential to be an economical boon, bringing tourists to an area that needs jobs.
She also questions the potential for bringing new businesses to Missouri, a topic Greitens has been very vocal about.
“If you don’t have schools, why would you come to Missouri? If you don’t have parks?” she asked. Schools and parks offer something to every Missourian in the way of health and well-being, she said. “This is something that benefits everyone, now and in the future.”
Asked if DNR closed the parks to focus on maintenance and upkeep at already-developed and open parks, Patterson said, “You are correct – the Missouri Department of Natural Resources continues to focus on maintenance at our existing facilities.”
“No decision has been made on these facilities,” she said without clarifying what specifically needs to be decided. “So there currently is no timeframe or plans for construction.”
“It’s an excuse,” retorted Justin Mutrux, comparing the reasoning to a logical fallacy such as a strawman, where a counterargument is made to an argument that was never offered, or red herring, in which irrelevant information is introduced to avoid answer a question asked.
“Never in my life have I ever had my entire house clean at once,” said Mary Ann, noting that there is always work to be done.
Her husband referred to Round Spring in Shannon County, a part of the Ozark Scenic National Riverways. After the late-April flash floods caused significant damages to more than 20 state parks in Missouri, Justin recalled, teams of people set to work immediately cleaning up the river in that area.
“If they’re waiting to get all the maintenance done, it’s never gonna happen,” said Mary Ann.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to the Quill’s request for comment.
NEW SIERRA CLUB
It was the Eleven Point State Park issue that spurred the creation of a south-Missouri Ozarks chapter of the Sierra Club in March, said the Mutruxes.
“Before, there was nothing here,” said Justin. Mary Ann said the park’s role in the chapter’s creation was “significant.”
“It’s what galvanized everyone,” she said. Previously, local club members traveled to the Springfield area to attend meetings when they could.
Conners says the Ozarks Chapter meets from 6 to 8 p.m. on the last Wednesday of every other month, alternating between Willow Springs and West Plains. The next meeting is planned for Sept. 27 in West Plains, specific location to be determined, said Conners.
For more information follow @SierraClubWhiteRiverGroup on Facebook or call Conners, 573-619-7343.