There’s no doubt that the United States is a place of irrevocable beauty; there’s something for everyone here, in one of the most culturally and geographically diverse places on the planet. From sun-soaked deserts to lush verdant forests, you can find it all right here. But no matter your preference, there is one special place in southern Missouri that visitors never forget — the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Featuring the United States’s highest concentration of springs in one location (seven, to be exact!), two rivers, and three cave systems, it’s easy to see why people flock here by the thousands; unfortunately, the Ozark riverways are facing a pollution crisis, that if left unchecked, could wipe this national treasure from the face of the planet.
The park surrounding the riverways was established in 1964 by Congress in an effort to protect the water, the land, and the area’s diverse wildlife. Since then, it’s been a popular tourist destination — and also a place of concern to locals, as pollution levels are continually rising, particularly in the water. The rising pollution levels are due to an increased amount of traffic in the area in recent years (with 1.3 million visits annually), the increased use of recreational water vehicles, and trash that is improperly disposed of; these initially became issues in 2002 when the National Park Service and the Forest Service began a project aimed at developing more river recreation areas. If no additional measures are taken to reduce the amount of pollution released into the water annually, America could soon face the loss of one of its most beautiful destinations, along with the wildlife that calls it home.
Local environmental activists have rallied the support and signatures of countless residents statewide, and they aren’t giving up anytime soon — in fact, they have submitted over 5,000 formal petitions to the National Park Service in the hopes that restrictions to limit pollution will be put in effect. Local residents claim that excessive horseback riding is contaminating the riverways with E. Coli, and overuse of recreational vehicles is contributing to air and water pollution via fossil fuels. Tests ran on water samples confirms both claims, but the National Park Service has not yet proposed a solution or even acknowledged the problem, which is growing with every passing day.
Passionate statewide environmental coalitions are suggesting an easy fix — they want the National Park Service to restrict river access to the public. Horseback riding is a popular tourist activity in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, with several tours running daily, and each tour consisting of up to 50 riders. This has become a safety issue, due to the fact that horse waste contains the dangerous bacteria E. Coli, which is now leaching into the riverways and posing a threat to swimmers. Additionally, illegal roads are giving tourists and citizens easy access to the water in unsupervised areas; this has led to a rise in water pollution by means of litter and exhaust fumes from water recreation vehicles. In the petitions sent to the National Park Service, citizens requested that recreational river access be restricted by limiting horseback tours to trails only and blockading or filling in illegal roads; their goal is to eliminate the presence of E. Coli and toxic chemicals from the water, making it safe for recreational use. One thing is for certain; if we want to enjoy the beauty of nature tomorrow, we have to preserve it today.
Restricting the number of contaminants being released into the air and water is the easiest way to begin reducing pollution, especially in places like the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, where contaminants are being released into the environment in staggering amounts. However, pollution is a worldwide epidemic; if we don’t begin the fight on pollution now, in a cooperative effort, we may lose more than our national parks.