Public meeting focuses on Bryant Creek State Park
An informational meeting about Bryant Creek State Park, a few miles north of Rockbridge in Douglas County, will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 11, at the Ava Senior Center, 281-283 NE Second St. in Ava.
A news release from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said, “The public is invited to share comments about the currently closed state park. State park staff will be on hand to provide information and answer questions.”
The announcement also said informational meetings are being held “in all state parks and historic sites” to “give staff the opportunity to let people know the current status and future plans for the parks and historic sites, and … offer visitors the opportunity to comment on the facilities.”
Bryant Creek State Park, with 2,917 acres consisting of thick oak and pine forests and nearly 2 miles of riverfront hills and bluffs along Bryant Creek, was one of four state parks added to the state’s park system in December 2016, during the final days of former Gov. Jay Nixon’s last term. The other parks were Ozark Mountain State Park in Taney County, northwest of Branson; Eleven Point State Park on the Eleven Point River about 45 miles east of West Plains in Oregon County; and Jay Nixon State Park near Taum Sauk Mountain State Park in southeast Missouri.
More than 100 area residents braved near-freezing temperatures on Jan. 8, 2017, for guided hikes through the area that was destined to become Bryant State Park. Bill Bryan, then the Missouri State Parks director, welcomed the crowd and introduced other state park employees who led attendees on a choice of three hikes through the land Bryan called “a beautiful place.”
Seven months after Eric Greitens was sworn in as governor in 2017, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a story in August saying the state park, along with the other tracts of land purchased by former Governor Nixon’s administration, would remain closed indefinitely.
The Post-Dispatch story by Jack Suntrup noted that, under Greitens’ administration, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources “has greeted further expansion of the state’s park system with skepticism, instead shifting focus to a $200 million maintenance backlog in current state parks.” Suntrup addrf later in the story that “Nixon was criticized by lawmakers who said his team snapped up parcels under a shroud of secrecy while neglecting the maintenance backlog and local concerns over lost property tax revenue.”
Bill Bryan, the state parks director who had hosted the public’s introduction to Bryant Creek State Park, was fired shortly after Greitens took office.
Four months later, in December 2017, public meetings were held to discuss the future of the four newest state parks. A story by Michele Skalicky for KSMU Ozarks Public Radio said that, before the Bryant Creek State Park meeting on Dec. 5, 2017, at the Ava Community Building, the new state parks director, Ben Ellis, said selling the newly acquired state park properties “has never been an option,” contrary to some media reports. “We are focused on currently looking at how to move forward to provide public access to these properties,” Ellis told Skalicky.
But without adequate funding, he said, making the properties accessible to the public would be very difficult, especially considering the $200 million in deferred maintenance at other state parks that DNR still faced.
A handout titled “Factors for consideration” that was distributed at the December 2017 meeting listed some of potential development costs for “primitive” park facilities as $130,000 to $390,000 for a 1-mile gravel road; $2,000 to $6,000 for a gravel parking lot; $11,000 for a 1-mile asphalt trail; $10,000 for a 1-mile gravel trail; $40,000 for a two-room vault toilet; and $6,000 to $25,000 per year for resource stewardship.
At the December 2017 meeting, Ellis told the attendees that a partnership between DNR and the Missouri Department of Conservation might be one way the park could eventually open. “We’re looking very closely at the possibility of various partnerships,” Ellis told Skalicky.
Area residents expressed their opinions about the state park at the meeting – and also online. To see the online comments, visit mostateparks.com, search for Bryant Creek State Park, and then click on “click here to see information from the Bryant Creek State Park meeting and link to comment.”
Greitens resigned as governor in June 2018 amid accusations that he violated campaign disclosure laws and may have tried to blackmail a former mistress.
Another story by Jack Suntrup last month in the Post-Dispatch discussed the legislature’s consideration of selling the Eleven Point park; the sale did not happen. The story also mentioned again the possibility of “joint operating agreements” between MDC or private groups that might allow the “new” state parks to open. Suntrup concluded by saying that Bryant Creek State Park and the other three parks “await development as [current] Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s administration assesses Nixon’s acquisitions.”
For more information about next week’s meeting, contact Carl Bonnell at Table Rock State Park, 417-334-4704.