Roads, guns, campers, canoes concern Current River State Park meeting
By Jo Schaper
Current River State Park has been in a contentious limbo since a 780-acre portion of the old Alton Club/Jerry J. Presley Center was transferred from the Missouri Department of Conservation to the Department of Natural Resources-Division of State Parks in March 2008.
At an open house/picnic on April 28, State Parks Director Bill Bryan, Deputy Director J. C. Kuessner, and other park officials addressed, then took informal questions from approximately 60 mostly local, and mostly male attendees for two and half hours.
The opening of the park has been delayed several times. The plans themselves changed between the administrations of Governors Matt Blunt and Jay Nixon. A poor economy, and drop in state park revenue resulted in insufficient funding to transform the property from small groups accommodated by the historic Alton Club facilities to the hundreds who visit a state park on a typical weekend.
The state is still $3 million short of the $8 million needed to upgrade the infrastructure for public access. Even so, development under a plan similar to that proposed in 2008, is expected to begin in 12 to 18 months.
Road development is contested issue
And then came the issue of a rejuvenated (or new in the view of some) road which crosses state property for a mile, ends in the woods, creates a second park entrance and which was revived (or cut) by the Shannon County Road Commission in 2009 without permission or knowledge of the state park. The road crosses a fen, uses a creek for roadbed, and passes close to an area where the state wants to put a youth group camp.
The county and state attorney general’s office have been at an impasse over the road since. It escalated last spring when Chris Koster filed an injunction against and asked for damages from the Shannon County Court.
“I’d like to apologize for the way we got started on this park under a previous administration,” began Bryan. “We’re holding this open house to meet the neighbors,” he said, “and to listen to your concerns. We may not always agree, but we will listen. That’s why we’re here.”
And the locals had an earful for Bryan, mostly about the road.
“We want these roads kept open,” said Max Gorman. “We’ll help you with your state park, because otherwise we’re all going to end up with a dirty face. I remember back before the Park Service took over the state parks down here. They were nice. But we don’t want that road closed.”
“Look around here,” said William Piatt. We don’t use state parks. We live here and we want it kept as it is. We’re here to figure out why every time they take a foot, we have to watch to make sure we’re not giving everything up. It wasn’t supposed to change. They promised us that. But it did anyway. So we want to know what this is going to cost us.”
Bryan did a little pleading: “Dealing with state parks is different. National Park Service people may be from anywhere. But we’re from here.” Gating, keying, and rerouting the primitive road away from sensitive areas were proposed.
The residents seemed to soften a bit, but solving the road issue remains key to locals embracing the new park. “This park was bought with conservation money. That means we can still hunt here. Now, I’m older and I need to drive my truck down there in deer season. How can we be able to do that if you take away the road?” said one older man who declined to be identified.
Park will be open to managed hunting
Managed hunting has been permitted at Current River SP even when generally closed to the public, and will continue after the park is officially opened, said Park Superintendent Jim Newberry.
In this case, MDC will manage youth and regular hunts in spring and fall for turkey and muzzle-loading and regular deer hunting. Other hunting seasons will be permitted when they can be managed in a manner consistent with visitor safety, in the more remote parts of the park.
“We are going to continue the hunting tradition here,” he said. “The local people expect it. We would have had a youth spring turkey season, except none of the kids with permits showed up. If you are interested in hunting here, you will have to apply through the MDC website, just like other youth, managed and special hunts. But it won’t be any more difficult than that.”
What the park will look like
Rumors over the years have turned the park into a high-end, high-dollar state resort park similar to those elsewhere, a limited access park utilizing the buildings for their original purposes for a few by reservation, as well as into another commercial canoe access point on the Current River.
Jane Lale, state parks director of planning and development, was on hand to answer questions, with a flipchart document still dated 2008.
“What limits us are the [National Park Service scenic] easement, and the reality of wastewater treatment,” she said. “The highest cost of development relates to properly dealing with wastewater.”
“We plan to turn the lodge into park offices, and remove some of the later dormitories, taking the structure back to its original size,” she said. We want to keep many of the public buildings as they are, or take them back to their original purpose, like the rec hall, and the boathouse and the barbecue house. We want to interpret what we have as what it was.”
One major change will be the draining of the upper lake, which will hold both family and camper cabins. The area which the Alton Club used and is near the river will be a day use area, and this upper lake area, nearer to Hwy. 19, and away from the scenic easement will accommodate overnight use. Regular camping, and a youth group camp are planned.
And what about the river?
“The Canoe Landing is not intended for commercial operations but for those floating to have an access to stop in and visit the park. Also, park users who have their own canoe/kayak can utilize this access for launching. This could be used as an emergency access as well,” Lale said.