JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri’s newest state park is being named after the state’s outgoing governor.
But the circumstances surrounding “Jay Nixon State Park” are a bit mysterious.
In what appears to be a partially finished webpage on the Missouri Department of Natural Resources website, the agency outlines the basics for the new park, located near Taum Sauk Mountain State Park in Ironton.
“A visit to this secluded park will allow guests to enjoy the sounds of wildlife and experience nature. Located in a wooded, rugged section of the St. Francois Mountains, there are opportunities for hiking,” the page notes.
In addition, the facility has a 64-acre mountaintop lake.
“The park is named for Missouri’s 55th Governor, whose advocacy for conservation and state parks has been nationally recognized,” the site notes.
Unlike other official webpages for Missouri state parks, however, there is no listing of park hours, park maps, area attractions or directions.
The website’s lone hint of the park’s specific location is that it is next to Taum Sauk. Asked by the Post-Dispatch, the DNR confirmed that the 1,230-acre facility is in Reynolds County and includes a connection to the Ozark Trail.
Currently, there are no facilities at the park, which can only be accessed from the Ozark Trail. In the future, basic services such as campsites, water and restroom facilities may be added, according to the department.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for additional information. Nixon leaves office Monday.
Lawmakers who represent the region were initially unaware of the new park. Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, said he could not comment until he learned more about the facility.
Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, said the creation of the new park follows a pattern, in which Nixon uses money from a legal settlement to quietly buy up land.
“I just can’t believe it. That money was earmarked to clean up the contaminated areas of land,” Fitzwater said.
However, Fitzwater said it may be too late to stop the park.
“I’m not sure if there is anything we can do about it legislatively,” he said.
The DNR said the property was bought in 2015 with funds received from a Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration settlement with the American Smelting and Refining Co. The Missouri Trustee Council, which includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, reviewed the proposed purchase at a public meeting on Dec. 18, 2014, at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.
As the outgoing governor has summed up his career in public service in recent months, Nixon has pointed to an expansion of the state park system as a major success story.
More than 20 million people visited the state’s parks last year, setting an attendance record and marking the first time that milestone was achieved, he said.
As a new governor in 2009, the former Boy Scout embarked on a push to improve the parks and reverse a decline in attendance.
In a statement last month, Nixon also highlighted that he’s kept admission free at the state parks.
The region where the new park is located is a hot spot in the park system. Along with Taum Sauk, nearby Elephant Rocks State Park drew 345,000 visitors last year. Another nearby facility, Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, had more than 365,000 visitors.
Since July, Nixon, has announced the opening of four new parks, as well as an expansion of the Katy Trail pedestrian and bike trail to Kansas City.
Republican lawmakers have been critical of the rapid expansion, saying the state cannot afford the additional parks. Although Nixon has largely used money from legal settlements to buy land for the parks, lawmakers say the long-term maintenance costs are unsustainable.
Nixon counters that the parks produce an annual economic impact of more than $1 billion.
With the addition of the new park, there will be 92 Missouri state parks and historic sites.
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