Southern Mo. river towns struck by shutdown

Written by Muleskinner Staff


(EMINENCE, Mo., AP) — Many of the people who live amid the hills and hollows around this southern Missouri town aren’t comfortable with the government telling them they have to do anything, let alone buy health insurance.
In 2010, voters here overwhelmingly supported a statewide ballot measure that opposed a federal mandate calling for people to buy health insurance.
And on any given day, the Tea Party war cry for less government easily resonates with the likes of loggers and hunters forced to co-exist with federal agencies that oversee deep forests the natives managed long before Congress voted to take over the land, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Now, nearly a week into the partial government shutdown, the area is facing the reality of its ideology.
Some see the impasse as a necessary stand against out-of-control spending in Washington, even as it hits small businesses in the pocketbook. Others don’t want their livelihoods used as pawns in national politics.
The shutdown is meanwhile stoking a growing bonfire of anti-government sentiment.
“We all should be rioting, if you ask me,” said Jack Peters, 76, a former park ranger turned river outfitter. “I am just fed up with the whole direction of this country, and I am old enough to say that.”
While thousands of Department of Defense civilian employees are scheduled to return to work this week, major furloughs were still in place over the weekend at agencies like the National Park Service, which runs the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
The 80,000-acre wilderness draws droves of people here each year to canoe, kayak, fish, hike, cave and camp along 134 miles of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers.
On the first weekend of the shutdown, the only sounds heard in parkland normally populated with outdoor enthusiasts was that of walnuts hitting the ground at a popular campground.
Barricades draped with large signs blocked entrance ways, prohibiting access to all areas.
River outfitters with licenses to do business in the national park are forbidden to put anybody on the water.
Although a majority of tourists visit during the summer, there’s usually a boost of activity in the fall when the leaves change and more of the dolomite bluffs are revealed.
After a slow year to date, additional income would have helped this autumn.
And while there are other rivers for fishing and kayaking in the region, the mere idea of closing public space further chaps Ryan Liggett, 38, owner of C and L Saddles and Tack in Eminence, population 600.
“I thought the parks and rivers belong to us as taxpayers, not the federal government, but obviously I was wrong,” he said in disgust Saturday, the last day of a popular annual trail ride that ventures onto federal land. “It ain’t right.”
Liggett, a proponent of less government spending, is however torn. Reductions in services, he notes, come with implications.
“It’s shaking things up in our community, but all in all I respect a man for taking a stand and not telling everybody what they want to hear,” Liggett said of the conservative lawmakers who led the shutdown charge on the cusp of implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
But he worries that Eminence itself may be forced to cease operations should the current budget impasse or a future fiscal crisis bleed into next summer.
“The Tea Party is going to get blamed, but it’s the last great gasp of common sense in fiscal responsibility,” said Chuck Purgason of Caulfield, who once represented the region as a Republican legislator in the state House and Senate. “We are borrowing $1 trillion a year on $17 trillion in debt. Everything else is a smokescreen to make us try not to think about this.”
Jeff Albers and a group of friends didn’t allow the shutdown to interfere with the October float trip that has brought them to the Riverways for 20 years.
But the Washington stalemate and the attendant barricades did require that the friends poke around the edges of the national park by foot and car.
Beneath a steady stream of jokes, they fumed like the locals about the federal government.
Albers, 53, an IT consultant from Des Peres, said he fired off a round of curt emails to federal lawmakers before leaving St. Louis County. He said the shutdown would motivate him to work phone banks at the next national election.
“Congress right now is non-essential,” he said.
“This is what gradually leads up to revolution,” added Ed Rippee, 50, a real estate agent from Kansas City.
“It doesn’t have to be violent,” said Ed Gauthier, 47, an engineer from Tennessee, referring to events like the 1989 “Velvet Revolution” in former communist Czechoslovakia.
As Albers and company groused about the federal government Saturday afternoon, three generations of a family that owns a business inside the national park were fielding calls about canceled canoe trips.
“Where we are sitting, we are taking a tremendous loss,” said Eugene Maggard, 72, whose father founded Akers Ferry Canoe Rental in 1954. The family also operates a general store and car ferry service across a sliver of the upper Current River.
While Maggard may not like the National Park Service being used as a “political tool,” he nonetheless allows, “We are still breathing. It’s still a good country.”
Maggard and his family through the years have weathered drought, floods and poor economies. Nor does this represent their first man-made government shutdown.
Marcus Maggard, 42, a military veteran like his father, mentioned that he often finds inspiration in Lee Greenwood’s “I am Proud To Be An American,” specifically the verse about the country’s wherewithal to rebuild after losing.
The observation caused his mother, wearing a Fourth of July blouse, to pause. It’s been quite a while, reflected Eleanor Maggard, since she’s heard a patriotic song on the radio.