Missouri State Parks officials are asking for public input into the future of three new state parks that have not been used because Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration believes they were purchased without sufficient public input.
The state bought Byrant Creek State Park in Douglas County, Jay Nixon State Park in Jefferson County and Ozark Mountain State Park in Taney County during the administration of Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon. The Greitens administration has contended the acquisitions were done in secrecy.
Leaders of the parks department are seeking public comment on the parks’ future from Dec. 4 through Dec. 15. They also plan three public meetings next week, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Selling the parks is one of several options being considered by the state, said Connie Patterson, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources.
Patterson told the Post-Dispatch that Missouri State Parks had the authority to decide the fate of each park but public input is important.
“There were insufficient public engagement opportunities before these properties were purchased,” Patterson said in a statement. “These properties have had a high level of public interest, and Missouri State Parks wants to receive input on the future of these properties from nearby residents and the public. That input will be seriously considered as we evaluate and work to move toward decisions on each individual property.”
The future of another park, Eleven Point State Park in Oregon County, is not currently being discussed because three county residents have sued over the legality of the land’s purchase and use as a state park.
The Department of Natural Resources has filed a motion to dismiss that case.
Republicans in the Legislature have criticized the purchases because of the cost. Patterson said existing state parks have an estimated $200 million maintenance backlog.
Proponents cite public support of the state parks system, noting nearly 80 percent of Missourians supported an extension of the state’s parks, soils and waters tax last year.
“Politically, it seems like a really dumb thing for the governor to do,” said John Hickey, the Sierra Club’s Missouri director. “He wants to take parks away from people and take away free public recreation away from families that need it.”
The Sierra Club is asking for a 30-day extension of the public comment period, saying 11 days is not enough time for the public to prepare meaningful comments.
Patterson said Missouri State Parks is working on a webpage to post information provided at public hearings and is considering the Sierra Club’s request for an extension.
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