ALTON – More than 5,400 acres of land in southeast Missouri are the target of restoration efforts funded by the Missouri Trustee Council, which includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The U.S. Forest Service is also involved in some of the projects.
Among that acreage is land in Oregon County along the Eleven Point River, according to a December FWS report. That land includes a portion of a ranch, formerly called Pigman Ranch, where the Beatles stayed during their first U.S. tour. That area is now known as Buildings for Babies Ranch.
The Trustees had previously discussed proposals in September and that presentation was followed by a 40-day comment period open to the public. The proposal was highly contested, as reported in the Quill at the time.
The agency said on Jan. 8 that the decision to move forward with funding had been made with those comments in consideration. Funding for the restoration project, to the tune of $10.98 million, comes from legal settlements for natural resources that were harmed by releases of lead and zinc from mining and related activities at sites in the Southeast Missouri Lead Mining District.
The restoration projects to take place will improve various habitats, benefit migratory birds and improve water quality, FWS said. Cessation of cattle grazing on certain acquired properties, non-native species control and prescribed burns will also take place. The counties where the projects will occur are Oregon, Reynolds, Dent and Iron.
FWS outlined the plans for the land to be purchased: “The property purchases will include additional lands for the U.S. Forest Service in the Black River watershed and will add to the Bell Mountain Wilderness area in Iron County and will infill other areas … in Dent County. The property purchases in Iron, Oregon and Reynolds counties will be owned and managed by Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Habitat restoration projects … will be conducted on some of the newly acquired properties in addition to other areas already owned by the Forest Service in Washington, Crawford and Shannon Counties. Additionally, the Forest Service will conduct wetland restoration on the Mark Twain National Forest property on the upper West Fork of the Black River in Reynolds County.”
Opponents say the money should be saved for cleanups in mining-impacted southeastern Missouri communities.
Republican Rep. Linda Black said that the park would divert valuable resources from the communities that have been most effective.
“Now, with the pot dwindling, the hopes of the impacted area actually being restored and remediated seem to be slipping away,” she said.
Part time West Plains resident Andrea Ingalsbe is a property manager with a background in green construction. She told the Quill she has a hard time understanding why people are opposed to the proposed state park.
“To me, it’s like A, there’s a lead contamination problem that needs cleaned up. That’s why there’s money to do this,” she explained, “B, the biggest landowner concerned says they cannot utilize the property in the way they envisioned and would like to see it go to better use. C, I am willing to bet that the property taxes paid to the county are negligible because land with no houses or improvements pay the lowest property taxes anyway. D, the people leading the land for grazing were given the opportunity to buy and declined. E, What the heck is the problem?”
John Weber, who heads the project for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said there was still $35.6 million left for southeastern Missouri restoration projects. Several projects in areas such as St. Francois and Madison counties that have been delayed because the Environmental Protection Agency still has to do large cleanups in the areas. Webster hopes those projects can be funded within the next year and started by 2017.
Oregon County Commissioner Patrick Ledgerwood said the purchase amounted to the loss of more property tax revenue, and that he does not expect any tourism benefits from the new park.
“This place is out absolutely in the middle of nowhere, nowhere near any of our towns,” Ledgerwood said.
Ingalsbe said she didn’t understand that thinking, either.
“People go to nature preserves to purposefully be nowhere. And it seems a little bit out of context to say no towns are near and therefore won’t benefit. Really?” she asked.”Like 15 miles is some insurmountable distance that no one will stop for gas or food?”
Buildings for Babies had not returned the Quill’s phone calls requesting an update as of press time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.