By Chris Fennewald
More than 7,800 state parks are scattered throughout the United States. Missouri has 88 of them. They are all gems and some have been consistently recognized nationally. USA Today readers voted Ha Ha Tonka State Park one of the top 10 state parks in the U.S. in a 2015 poll. In 2014, Active Times listed three Missouri State Parks — Johnson Shut-ins, Katy Trail, Ha Ha Tonka — in their Top 36 Stunning State Parks. After visiting 100 state parks, Midwest Living put Ha Ha Tonka, the Katy Trail, Meramec and Sam A. Baker state parks in its list of 35 great Midwest state parks.
Our state has many natural wonders to show off, and keeping all of those trails and facilities in shape so people can enjoy them requires money. Much of the funding for Missouri state parks comes from a one-tenth-of-one-percent sales tax implemented in 1984. The Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax is up for renewal on November 8 and chances are good that, for the fourth time in 30 years, voters will vote to continue it. It’s a no-brainer. A National Parks and Recreation poll found 92 percent of Americans say their communities benefit from local parks. Four in five people in the same poll agree local parks are worth the tax dollars spent on them.
Unlike in other state park systems, Missourians and tourists pay no entry fee to use our state parks. The sales tax ensures everyone has free and equal access. Another poll conducted for the Nature Conservancy shows Missourians take advantage of that free pass, with 44 percent saying they visit state parks a few times and year. Only 7 percent never visit our parks.
There are many reasons to say “yes” to the one-tenth-of-one-percent sales tax. Conserving soil, protecting our water, preserving natural habitats and honoring our cultural heritage are strong motives to continue the progress made over the last three decades. Perhaps the best reason is to create memories. John Moll of Hazelwood was found recently trout fishing at Bennett Spring State Park. Although he regularly camps at Missouri parks, he hadn’t been fishing at Bennett since he was 15, many years ago. Wearing his waders and fishing vest, Moll talked about wearing only deck shoes and shorts back then, and how cold the spring water was. He enjoyed sharing the memory like he enjoys our state parks.
At campgrounds and hiking trails, on rivers and lakes, memories are created every second by those enjoying the beauty of Missouri state parks. Missouri has a good thing going with the Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax. Let’s keep it going.
(Chris Fennewald, of Jefferson City, Mo. is editor for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.)