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By Mark Henry,
The “Dog Days” of summer are upon us and most outdoors people find themselves enjoying the beautiful streams the Ozarks has to offer. The streams are cool and clear and provide a good time and a cool place for the entire family to enjoy outside.
This time of year, almost every day as a Conservation Agent, I witness people enjoying the cool, clear water of the beautiful streams in Douglas County. Most of the people I encounter appreciate and respect the beauty of these streams; however, there are always a few that do not, and many times they ruin a good thing for everyone.
In my job, and during times of recreational use, I find trash left along the banks or sunk at the bottom of the streams. There is no excuse for this. And, as I tell most people I catch leaving trash, ‘we do not give warnings for littering’. The ones we catch are at least given tickets and pay a fine for littering, but as you can see from the pictures, many are not caught and someone is left with a mess to clean up.
The trash is not only ugly, it also pollutes the streams and harms the fish and wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, there are always a few that do not appreciate the clear, gravel bottom streams and the different unique species of fish and wildlife that rely on these areas for survival.
In Douglas County, there are public access areas, as well as privately owned areas that allow access to streams. Although many streams in our area are considered waters of the state, most of the stream banks are privately owned. A landowner’s deed says he/she owns to the midpoint of the stream if the stream is the boundary line and owns the ground under the stream if he/she owns both sides.
In the state of Missouri, waters of the state simply means the water is considered public and there is not a public “right of way” on the dry banks along these small streams in our area. The water is public – the streams are open to fish, float, and swim in them. The phrase “public right of way on the banks” that many people refer to is a reference to large rivers such as the Missouri River and the Mississippi River.
However, in our area, if it is dry ground it is private property, and if it is under water, it is public. There are some areas with public land along our streams, and there are also public roads that go through them. Those are the only areas that are public accesses.
Several landowners across the area have allowed the public to access the stream on their property, but what would you do if it was your land people abused and left trash on?
The point I am trying to make is these areas we are accustomed to using for access to streams can, and may be closed off to public use if abuse continues. This will happen because a few individuals do not respect property and animal habitats. There are several privately owned places that have been closed already.
The pictures included with this article show just some of the trash recently left on private property at an access area on Beaver Creek at Jackson Mills in Douglas County. The photos show how the land and creek bank is being used and unfortunately, abused.
There are many other areas throughout the county that look similar to this.
Please remember these areas do not get closed off because people have treated the land with respect, they get closed off because of the careless actions of a few individuals. These beautiful access areas could be closed to everyone.
Next time you visit any of our beautiful streams take an extra look around to make sure you have not left anything behind, and leave the area more pristine than you found it. If everyone will be conscientious and treat our streams with respect, we will be able to enjoy them for many years to come.
Please report anyone leaving trash or driving ATVs or other vehicles in the streams by calling Conservation Agent Mark Henry at 417-543-5990. You will remain anonymous and could receive a reward.