It will likely be awhile before four properties that were purchased in 2016 for Missouri state parks are open to the public, but work is underway at some of them.
The properties were purchased shortly before former Governor Jay Nixon’s term ended, and one of them is the subject of a lawsuit. It was filed last year by some Oregon County landowners who oppose the development of the Eleven Point State Park. They claim part of the 4176-acre property includes an easement along the river that allows only agricultural uses. Missouri State Parks director, Ben Ellis, said no date has been set for trial.
But he said they’ve been working on stewardship obligations on the other properties: Ozark Mountain State Park in Taney County, Bryant Creek State Park in Douglas County and Jay Nixon State Park in Reynolds County.
"Looking at addressing invasive species in some of them, having hay contracts to be able to have the hay mowed or the grass mowed so that invasives don't come up," said Ellis.
Natural resource stewards are spending time at the parks this summer documenting the properties’ natural resources among other things, according to Ellis. And some of the areas have been signed after surveys were done to determine the boundaries.
Jay Nixon State Park is currently closed, in part, because there’s no legal access to it. While it’s adjacent to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, there’s not a trail connecting the two, and Ellis said there’s not a timeline in place for developing one.
Conceptual development plans or CDPs are being created for Ozark Mountain and Bryant Creek State Parks. But it could be awhile before the public can access those areas.
"It's not unusual to go through the conceptual development plan and then a period of years pass before the park actually opens to the public," Ellis said.
He points to Weston Bend State Park north of Kansas City. After it was purchased, the conceptual development plan was created. But it was 10 years later that the park opened to the public. And Ellis has no idea when the newest properties might be open to public use.
One reason for the wait is funding. Money for state parks comes from the Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax and earnings from things like concessionaires and camping. There’s not any extra money right now.
"Our other 87 parks and historic sites take up all of that, so for us to move forward on one of these new areas would mean taking resources from the parks and historic sites that we already have," Ellis said.
Andhe said Missourians have made it clear they don’t want money diverted from parks that are currently open. But they also are in favor of eventually developing the newest properties.
Public meetings were held in December 2017 to allow the public to comment, and feedback was also accepted online. Ellis said that’s because the state had purchased the properties without allowing local property owners and residents to have a say.
"Overwhelmingly those meetings showed that the majority of Missourians support a state park in those four locations, and, so, with that, we have started our process," he said.
Public meetings will also be part of the creation of conceptual development plans for the properties.
The first meeting for Bryant Creek State Park is Tuesday, June 11, at 5:30 at the Ava Senior Center. The first meeting for Ozark Mountain State Park is set for Thursday, June 27, at 1 p.m. at the stables that are located on the property.