Local groups fill gaps

EMINENCE, Mo. — The Ozark National Scenic Riverways closed campgrounds, suspended tours and let the grass at a popular site go without mowing because of sequestration funding cuts, but locals have volunteered time and resources to reopen two campgrounds and organize an annual event once run by the National Park Service.

In March, a three percent across-the-board funding cut slashed the park’s $6 million budget, forcing staff and service reductions. Three popular campsites were closed, a visitor center was shuttered and the Haunting in the Hills, an annual showcase of traditional Ozark culture in its thirteenth year, was cancelled.

But faster than Congress can pass a budget, two local groups filled the void and signed a volunteer agreement with the park to run the Rymers and Gooseneck campgrounds, which are especially popular during the fall hunting season.

“As soon as gates were closed and padlocked, that’s when we heard from the groups,” said Faye Walmsley, an interpretive specialist with the park.  

Volunteers are nothing new to the park service, but with shrinking budgets and increased demands, Walmsley hopes that she can expand the use of volunteers and students at the scenic riverways.

Walmsley said she has been working with the Recreation Department at Missouri State to establish a river patrol program that would use students to communicate with visitors and document violations on the river. She said the goal is to “get people to be the eyes and ears of the park.”

Besides the campground management, the Ozark Heritage Project, a local nonprofit, volunteered to coordinate Haunting in the Hills. The event will be held Oct. 12-13 at Alley Spring and feature local musicians, dancers, artists and food vendors, highlighting traditional Ozark culture.

“That sense of ownership is very important,” Walmsley said.

Edited by Chris Long.

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