A press release from the state Department of Conservation late last month caught my eye. The agency is looking for input about places that provide access to lakes and streams. A few years ago I offered my evaluation of a few, and the issue still gets my attention.
This time they were actually asking for my opinion rather than for me to begin a random rant. Alas, there was more (or less) to the request than I thought. Throughout the month of December the state is collecting comments about public places to reach rivers and lakes, but it is specifically regarding an environmental assessment procedure.
The 60-plus pages of report that is available for review reads as raw and redundant. For what I could glean from the document, they want to use a simpler method for determining how plans for river and lake accesses affect the surrounding properties, including the human, plant, and animal residents in the area.
The suggested change would save money and time for building new accesses or renovating, and relocating existing properties. Trying to reduce the taxpayers’ burden and speed up the process for government work would not likely have many detractors. By my interpretation, potential environmental impacts are addressed, and when a conflict with the new rules arises, the old requirements return.
A public comment period for saving money and time seems like a waste of both. Either way, if you want to provide your input, the Draft Generic Environmental Assessment for Public Access Sites in Missouri can be viewed online at https://mdc.mo.gov/media/118586, and you may send an email to state fisheries program supervisor Laura.Ruman@mdc.mo.gov before Dec. 31.
The need for more and better accesses is evident, and according to the press release, the state is obligated to spend a specific portion of federal money it receives on providing anglers and boaters better ways to reach the water.
“Over time, new and improved boat accesses are necessary to help meet increasing demand generated by increased boat ownership and leisure time,” Ruman said in the press release. “Accesses are frequently damaged during flood events and may require closure until the damage is repaired or the access is relocated.”
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service provides Sports Fish Restoration funds to the states, and 15% of that money must be spent on access renovation, construction, or maintenance. The taxes come from federal excise on fishing equipment, import duties on boats, and portion of the fuel tax. It is distributed based on a state’s geographic size and number of fishing permits sold.
I have no doubt that our state spends its required allotment on the hundreds of access across our wide Missouri, but I always want the ones I might use to be better or even available. I have visited a few that are barely accessible.
An ongoing initiative in Missouri invites anglers to complete its Smallmouth Slam, by landing at least one bronze beauty from 12 different streams where special regulations protect them.
Three of those options are in or near Jefferson County. The entire length of Big River has multiple locations throughout its length to join the flow and try to catch a fish. It may be the most accessible of all the streams in the state. The Mineral Fork and the Joachim Creek are near the opposite side of the equation.
Walther Park in De Soto has fantastic facilities for just about everything you could want from a public property, but its potential for providing significant smallmouth bass fishing is limited. The rest of the Joachim Creek in the special management zone has better angling options, but it is almost exclusively in private ownership.
The conservation department’s Kingston Access in Washington County is a parking lot and quarter-mile hiking path to the Mineral Fork. Wade fishing is possible, or kayakers and canoeists who are willing to carry their equipment can float the three miles to Big River for downriver access sites.
Even with the new and improved environmental assessment plans, the state’s opportunities to reach its fishable waters face significant limitations.
Originally published by Leader Newspapers of Jefferson County Dec. 15, 2022.