Comments sought until March 7 for compromise on scenic rivers motorboat restrictions

The proposed horsepower restrictions for the Current and Jacks Fork rivers in the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways seem to be a reasonable compromise, which is evidenced by the fact that extremists on both sides are screaming the loudest.

Fortunately the middle ground has the opportunity to be heard. Public comments are being accepted until March 7 at http://www.regulations.gov or by mail to Superintendent, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, 404 Watercress Drive, P.O. Box 490, Van Buren, MO 63965.

The online submission form is simple and all comments are viewable as part of the public record. Once on the website, comments are submitted by entering the docket number 1024-AE62 in the search field. After entering a comment, you receive a confirmation number and can get an email when your comment is posted.

In 1964 when the National Park Service established the Ozark National Scenic Riverways on 134 miles of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, motorboats were part of the deal. Propeller driven motors needed deep enough water to get up to speed, but had to be tilted nearly out of the water to navigate through shallow stretches. Motors bigger than 20 horsepower were too heavy to lift.

With the introduction of jet-propulsion that allows boats to skim along on inches of water, depth became less of an issue and motor sizes kept getting bigger. Now the river runners have outboards up to 250 horsepower and can travel 50 miles per hour making large wakes and needing more space for maneuvering.

That speed and size causes safety concerns for swimmers and anglers who can appear to be just a speck in the stream. Canoe, kayak, tube and raft floaters routinely demonstrate their inability to steer or avoid even stationary obstacles. Those who enjoy the rivers for their peace and solitude are concerned about the noise of those big motors.

The loudest and most consistent argument against the new regulations don’t want any restrictions from the government about how they use the properties that have been a part of their family life for decades or more. They don’t need Washington D.C., St. Louis or the Sierra Club to tell them what to do.

The proposal regulates motor size in different segments of rivers and by seasonal use. The furthest upstream portions of the two rivers are the shallowest by nature and most difficult for motorized boats to navigate. From April 1 through September 15 only non-motorized boats would be allowed. Those dates are set to coincide with the peak floating seasons of spring and summer. Motorboats would be allowed during fish gigging and trapping seasons in the fall and winter.

Gigging and trapping boats on the upper sections, and all boats using the middle sections of the rivers year round, would be limited to 60/40 horsepower. That update to an existing but unimplemented regulation recognizes that a 60 horse jet boat has an output equivalent of a 40 horsepower propeller boat.

The third section involves only the Current River from Big Spring to the southern park boundary. On that section, which is much wider and deeper, jet boat motors would be allowed up to 150 horsepower and prop boats could be 105 horsepower.

I have submitted my comment through the website and ask those who have interest in the subject to do so too by March 7. I’m not suggesting you copy and paste my opinion, but here is what I said.

“The proposed horsepower regulations seem like a reasonable compromise between no restrictions at all and no motorized watercraft at all. I have floated the Current and Jack’s Fork rivers multiple times in the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways and have found that jet boats and canoes can enjoy the rivers together, but limitations are appropriate. The seasonal restrictions during peak floating seasons, and low water days of the summer make sense, as do limitations for 60/40 horsepower. The 150 horsepower limit on the downriver portion of the Current allows fast boats, but begins to address noise and erosion concerns.”
Of course you can submit your comments like, “We don’t need no government.” Or “Get those noisy things off my quiet river.” But finding middle ground (or water) ought to be how we decide things in America.

Originally published by Leader Publications on Feb. 17, 2022.

Published by John J. Winkelman

A freelance outdoor writer for more than 30 years

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