When I learned that a Southwest Missouri native who got himself crossways with a teacher ended up at the blackboard, writing the same sentence 100 times, I knew we had something in common.
Later in life, Leonard Hall told others he was unable to recall the specific crime that earned him that punishment, but he never forgot the sentence, which he said “engraved itself on my memory indelibly.”
“The civilized man thinks of the future.”
I too spent a good bit of time at the blackboard writing sentences again and again, although in my case whatever lesson was spilling from the chalk never stuck.
It did with Hall.
His vision is why two of the best Ozark rivers — the Current and the Jack’s Fork — had the honor of becoming the nation’s first federally protected rivers. Hall was the man who led the fight to see that the Current and Jack’s Fork were ultimately protected by the National Park Service.
By the early 1950s, one contentious question had been settled for the Current — there would be no dams — but how to protect it going forward was every bit as divisive.
Some didn’t want anything done. Others thought the U.S. Forest Service should manage the rivers and surrounding region as a national recreation area, using scenic easements that would at the same time safeguard private property. Hall and others argued that from the standpoint of recreation and preservation, the National Park Service was the best agency for the job, and they wanted 190 miles of the Current, Jack’s Fork and Eleven Point rivers protected as a national monument, which meant public ownership of the river corridor.
Hall had a powerful ally in Stewart Udall, U.S. secretary of interior from 1961-1969. Udall had visited the Current in 1961, floating and fishing part of it, and afterward, he remarked that in the Ozarks there remained “the last untouched group of rivers in the nation.”
Hall and Udall also flew over these Missouri rivers, and from the plane, Hall pointed to the spot on the lower Current where famed conservationist Aldo Leopold once had a hunting cabin.
Udall asked Hall: “Did you know Leopold?”
Hall said, “Yes, I knew him very well,” and then explained that he had floated the river with Leopold’s brother.
Udall then reached into his jacket and pulled out a copy of “Sand County Almanac,” telling Hall: “Everything I know about conservation I learned from Aldo Leopold.”
The details are in an oral history interview done with Hall in 1979, and I wonder if that was the moment that sealed the deal for the Current River and the Jack’s Fork, meaning that because they were good enough for Leopold, they were good enough to become the nation’s first federally protected rivers.
Born in Seneca in 1899, Hall moved as a child to Potosi, beginning a journey that would see him become one of the state’s leading conservationists.
He died in 1992 after receiving a number of conservation and environmental awards and honors. Today, he is in Missouri’s Conservation Hall of Fame.
He is best remembered for his book “Stars Upstream,” about his trips on the Current. It was published in 1958, and according to George Hartzog, a former director of the National Park Service who worked with Hall and with Udall, that book “awakened its readers to the danger of losing their wild rivers to commercialism, exploitation and pollution. ... This book helped to bring Missouri the first national scenic riverways in the National Park System.”
We ended up with something a bit different than what Hall imagined — a new type of park called Ozark National Scenic Riverways, instead of a national monument, and the Eleven Point and part of the lower Current in Ripley County were not included. Still, it was a major victory for rivers.
In 1965 — one year after the law protecting the rivers was passed — Hall was honored as Missouri Conservationist of the Year.
“We live at a fortunate moment,” Hall said when he was given the award, “when the banners of the conservation movement fly higher than ever in history, but never was the need greater.”
New laws, new programs, new leaders — Hall singled out Udall — were proof of a new way of thinking that was emerging.
“At the same time, there has probably never been a moment in history when the forces against conservation have been more powerful: the spirit of exploitation, greed, neglect and carelessness, and of action against the public interest by lobby-backed bureaus of government.”
Hall noted threats to California Redwoods, the Grand Canyon, and the Yukon River in Alaska, as well as the continued loss of free-flowing streams.
“In all these matters I say the time for action is today, for there can be no tomorrow. Either we will act effectively now to save this land our forefathers won but knew not how to care for — or we leave chaos and a desert for our children in the years to come.”
Then he drew out that lesson from his childhood, telling the audience: “The civilized man thinks of the future.”
Andy Ostmeyer is the managing editor for The Joplin Globe. Contact him at email@example.com.