ST. LOUIS — Four new Missouri state parks announced late in former Gov. Jay Nixon’s tenure are either closed or never opened, and some environmentalists worry that now-protected land will be sold to private developers.
St. Louis Public Radio reports that all four park sites, scattered across the Ozarks, are near active mining operations.
Republican legislators said there just isn’t the money to maintain the parks and some have suggested selling the land to private developers.
But John Hickey of the Missouri Sierra Club said the parks should be opened for residents to enjoy. He said the statewide vote in November that renewed a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for parks shows Missouri residents’ strong desire to support parks.
“Any rationale that state government is putting out, saying, ‘Here’s what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to sell it,’ we don’t think it’s legitimate,” he said. “There’s plenty of money in state government to maintain state parks.”
Rep. Randy Pietzman, a Republican from Troy, sponsored a failed bill this year to place a moratorium on state park growth. He said he sees nothing wrong with selling unused park land.
“If it’s just a piece of property out somewhere that they acquired and they need the money somewhere else and they can get a decent price for it, yeah, I would be for selling it,” Pietzman said. “I’m kind of a free market guy. To me, if they’re not doing anything illegal, then I don’t see a problem with them buying it.”
Nixon announced seven new parks last year, bringing Missouri’s total to 92. But Eleven Point, Bryant Creek and Ozark Mountain state parks never opened and Jay Nixon State Park was closed in February due to lack of markers and access and safety issues.
Ben Ellis, the parks director under Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, said the parks were added without additional staff or funding, while existing parks need maintenance and repair. He said the agency is looking at all options.
Information from: KWMU-FM, http://www.kwmu.org