For two decades, Patrick Jackson has watched tourists use one of his most treasured places as a dumpster.
Jackson, a field ranger at Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, spends almost every day near the river where he piloted a boat for the first time as a child.
When he snorkels on his days off, he sees deep pockets underwater filled with thousands of beer cans thrown out of kayaks, motorboats and rafts.
The garbage stays put until the water rises significantly, and even that doesn’t solve the problem — it just moves the trash farther downstream.
“It’s awful,” he said, gazing out over the Current River’s gravel banks, a launching point for float trips.
Many people who come to the Ozarks for float trips relish the crowds of younger people who have started flocking to the area, said Faye Walmsley, Ozarks National Scenic Riverways spokeswoman. They don’t come for peace and quiet, she said; they want to socialize.
In the crowded summer months, traffic backs up for about 3 miles on the dirt road leading to the launch point, Walmsley said. Park officials haven’t changed policies on the number of boats on the river in more than 20 years.
Families generally avoid coming on Saturdays, which often attract a rowdier crowd, Jackson said.
The trash at the bottom of the river bothers him, and he does his best to stop it, even though that sometimes means writing tickets for people he might run into at the grocery store.
“My memories of life are here,” Jackson said. “I take this job personally. Before I make the contact (when I see people littering), I have to calm myself down.”
Edited by Margaux