Kinder, Kelly debate future of Ozark National Scenic Riverways

May 5, 2014

Representative Chris Kelly and Lt. Governor Peter Kinder on the steps of the Shannon County Courthouse in Eminence, Mo.
Credit Bridgit Bowden / KBIA

  The future of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways continues to be a matter for debate – particularly between Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder and state Representative Chris Kelly. The two politicians have been sparring over the park issue on Twitter, and on Saturday they met in the small southern Missouri town of Eminence for a formal debate.

The argument between Lieutenant Governor Kinder and Representative Kelly started on Twitter in February of this year. On Saturday, their formal debate took place on the steps of the Shannon County Courthouse, not far from the Jack’s Fork River.

The topic was whether the park should remain in federal control as a national park or be turned over to the state. Representative Kelly says he thinks state control is unrealistic.

"For the sake of our discussion, let’s assume—let’s set aside reality and assume that’s possible because in fact we all know that that’s not going to occur. The state of Missouri won’t do it, the federal government won’t do it, and the people of Missouri won’t do it," he said.

Kelly says Ozark National Scenic Riverways draws 1.4 million people every year, and should be held as a national park.  

"You would never consider the surrender of Yellowstone or of Glacier or of Gettysburg. I treasure the Ozark National Scenic Riverways as deeply as I do Gettysburg," he said.

The Lieutenant Governor argued in favor of state control.  In citing the reasons he doesn’t trust the federal government to run the park, he drew from examples as wide-ranging as the US handling of the violence in Benghazi, Libya, and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

”The folks of Shannon County and the southern Missouri Ozarks do not trust the federal government that you are asking us to place this power in," he said.

He says state departments like the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Department of Natural Resources would be responsible for care of the rivers.

"I’m moved by all the rhetoric about National Parks and Gettysburg and Yellowstone and all the rest, but I take it as a slander on the people of Missouri that we cannot be trusted with stewardship of these precious resources in state government," he said.

The Missouri House included $6 million in its budget to run the park if the state were to receive control. The Senate did not include that money in its plan. The legislature has to come to an agreement on the budget before May 9.