We urge lawmakers to protect Eleven Point State Park.

There’s no doubt that the river and its watershed are nationally significant and have been recognized as such going back to the first conversations this country had on protecting its rivers. Selling the land would be a mistake that would deprive Missourians of a spectacular site. Yet, a bill to do just that has passed out of committee in the Missouri House and could soon come to the House floor.

The argument to sell the park is based on the specious claim that the state “misappropriated” mining settlement money it received when it bought the land along the Eleven Point several years ago and that the settlement money should be used in those areas that suffered mining damage. But that settlement included both remediation funds to restore damaged areas and mitigation funds, which can be used to offset what was lost. Putting in the public domain habitat for wildlife is an example of that, as some of what was damaged by lead mining is beyond our ability to restore or recover. Nothing in the settlement indicated the mitigation funds had be used on land that was damaged.

We have argued before that, because all Missouri taxpayers ante up when mining or other environmental problems occur in any part of the state and because wildlife belongs to all people in the state, all Missourians should benefit from the mitigation money too. Creating a state park that all can enjoy is a great way to do that.

Under former Gov. Jay Nixon, the state used mitigation money to acquire from willing sellers nearly 4,200 acres of land along Eleven Point, one of the nation’s inaugural National Wild and Scenic Rivers, and a river that was initially going to be included in the nation’s first federal river park until it was cut out by compromise. It is a place that previous generations worked hard to protect. That park protects nearly 7 square miles of habitat for wildlife, as well as the recharge basins for the large springs that feed the river and miles of riparian corridor.

Previous generations of Missourians — Republicans and Democrats — rallied to save Ozark rivers and went to extraordinary lengths to do so, including spending millions of state and federal tax dollars for acquisition, using eminent domain and drafting innovative laws to protect them. We have the ability to protect a large piece of the nationally significant Eleven Point River and watershed without having to do any of that.

The better way to see this is that Missouri acquired a crown jewel state park without having to use state money and can advance protection of a nationally significant river. Lawmakers should be advocating for opening the site to the public, not unraveling the deal.

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