Missouri’s state parks system celebrates its centennial in 2017. But state Rep. Robert Ross, a Houston Republican, and a few others are casting a dark shadow over the yearlong celebration of one of the best state park systems in the country. State parks have been under attack in the legislature this session, and they need your help.
More than a dozen bills would do real damage to existing parks, hobble the acquisition of new parkland, and hurt the residents and local economies of Missouri. That is on top of the massive damage already inflicted last May, when the General Assembly removed $40 million for infrastructure rehabilitation in parks statewide from the first major bond issue for state buildings since the mid-1980s, and refused to re-appropriate an additional $15 million previously authorized.
This year, Ross introduced HB 2187, which would require the state to sell 4,200 acres along the Eleven Point River already acquired for a park using settlement funds from lead mining damages. The Eleven Point was one of the initial rivers designated in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.
The bill passed the House and has been voted “do pass” from a Senate committee. Ross is also proposing HJR 101, already reported from committee. It would repeal the Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax and replace it with a new version that would require the Department of Natural Resources to pay property taxes on all state parks acquired since 1985.
This would create massive public confusion in a year in which the tax, on which the parks are utterly dependent for operations and maintenance, is up for renewal by voters. State parks already make payments in lieu of taxes for five years while new parks are developed, but there is scant rationale for payments beyond that when recent studies have shown that parks result in some $26 in regional economic activity and tax payments for every dollar expended by the state. The Senate has OK’d SB 682, requiring public notice and local hearings before any land acquisition. It has been heard in the House. The bill’s mandates would hinder the state’s ability to acquire land or negotiate a fair price.
Other bills would prevent any land acquisition, even by donation or bequest, without approval of both houses. There is also a threat to the Katy Trail from HB 2047, which would allow motorized vehicles up to 5 feet wide and one ton in weight to be used by anyone over age 60. People with disabilities currently may use electric vehicles on the trail. Allowing gasoline-powered all-terrain vehicles not only would disturb the trail’s peace and quiet but would cause more wear and tear and endanger non-motorized users.
As if that were not enough, the House has been deleting some state park items from the various appropriation bills, but so far the Senate has been trying to restore them, with results still uncertain. It is critical to respectfully let your legislators know what you think about these attacks on state parks.
Visit the Missouri Parks Association website for more information about the many issues facing state parks and more.
Susan Flader of Columbia is a past president and current board member of the Missouri Parks Association and editor of the newly released book “Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites — Exploring Our Legacy.”