Spring laws

Alley Spring Branch during a good flow
Springs are vital to life in the Riverways, but are very fragile.

NPS/Josh Chilton

Legal Protection for Springs:

Ozark National Scenic Riverways is charged by the American people, through its Congressional mandate, to preserve these unique and fragile natural features. A variety of laws and regulations, some state and federal laws, others park regulations, are in place to help preserve them unimpaired for for the enjoyment of our great grandchildren's grandchildren. Some are summarized below:

Prohibited Activities in Springs of Ozark National Scenic Riverways

The following sections of the Superintendent's Orders regulate activities in springs and spring branches:

1.5 Boating and tubing
Boating and tubing are prohibited in the spring and spring branch of Alley, Round, Blue and Big Spring.
3.1 Swimming, bathing and wading
Swimming, bathing and wading in springs and spring branches is prohibited.
3.23 Scuba diving and snorkeling
Scuba diving is prohibited within all springs and spring branches on Federally owned land within the boundaries of the Riverways without written permit from the Superintendent, under authority of 36 CFR 7.83.

Excerpt from 36 CFR 7.83 (Federal Code of Regulations)
(b) Scuba Diving. (1) Scuba diving is prohibited within all springs and spring branches on federally owned land within the boundaries of Ozark National Scenic Riverways without a written permit from the superintendent.
(2) Permits. The superintendent may issue written permits for scuba diving in springs within the boundaries of Ozark National Scenic Riverways;
(I) That the permit applicant will be engaged in scientific or educational investigations which will have demonstrable value to the National Park Service in its management or understanding of riverways resources.
7.83 Fishing
Fishing is prohibited in springs and spring branches.

Rational for Restricting Activities in Springs
Enabling Legislation:

The first paragraph of the enabling legislation for Ozark Riverways reads:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, for the purpose of conserving and interpreting unique scenic and other natural values and objects of historic interest, including preservation of portions of the Current River and the Jacks Fork River in Missouri as free-flowing streams, preservation of springs and caves, management of wildlife, and provisions for use and enjoyment of the outdoor recreation resources thereof by the people of the United States,..............
Note that the second specific purpose listed for the establishment of the park is "preservation of springs", out ranked only by "preservation of portions of the Current River and the Jacks Fork River". The word preservation was chosen here and not the weaker term conservation. It is clear that the springs must be protected to the highest standard. Big Spring is certainly by virtue of its magnitude alone is one of, if not the most, valuable single resource features in the park. It is clear therefore that actions and activities that affect Big Spring must be judged using the highest standard.

Natural Resource Values:
Springs are unique ecosystems. Their stable thermal regime and water chemistry characteristics provide a unique environment for a variety of flora and fauna not commonly found in the main channel of their receiving stream. By definition springs are small systems, which makes them more sensitive to disturbances than the main river channel.
Watercress and other aquatic macrophytes play a key role in the spring ecosystem by providing organic input, habitat for macro invertebrates and substrate for periphyton growth (Converse 1994). Watercress grows mainly in shallow areas and is easily dislodged by wading activities. Wading activities by large numbers of visitors in the spring branch would significantly reduce the watercress biomass in the spring ecosystem. This biomass reduction would negatively affect the thermal regime present in these springs. At least one species of caddisfly is known to occur only in Big Spring and Greer Spring. Small changes in small sensitive systems like springs can have large affects. In addition, the export of large amounts of macrophyte material to the receiving river is significant (Converse 1991). No less than 38 animal species are restricted in distribution to Ozark springs and subterranean waters (Vineyard and Feder 1974). Several aquatic invertebrate species are known from as few as two Ozark springs including springs within Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

The scenic values of our large springs are probably the most obvious values to park visitors. The number of publications using photographs of these springs on their cover or in the body every year evidences this. Tens of thousands of people come to Big and Alley Springs every year just to look at these jewels of the Ozarks.

Trampling of bank vegetation including delicate mosses and lichens by people accessing the spring to fish, wade and swim would negatively alter the appearance of the springs. Denuding of vegetation on the banks would increase, further degrading the visual quality of the area.

These recommendations are contained in Natural Resources Basic Data for Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Larson 1969):
The springs.....are unusual natural features and will no doubt, greatly enhance the recreational aspects of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. However, it is well to remember that the vegetation, which has developed in the spring habitat in the area, appears as a distinct unit in the flora of the State. The importance of safeguarding that vegetational element cannot be over emphasized. It is requested, therefore, that serious consideration be given to the following recommendations:
1. A restriction should be placed against removal of plant species from spring pools and spring branches by anyone other than qualified individuals conducting surveys of the flora.
2. The use of spring pools for any activity, which would disturb the vegetation, should be prohibited. This would be most significant in those springs where the increasingly popular sport of diving could be pursued.
3. Finally, with respect to the distribution of species, particularly in spring branches, activities, which most likely would disturb the substratum, should not be permitted.
How other agencies protect springs:
The US Forest Service does not allow wading, swimming, fishing, boating or floating in Greer Spring to protect a pristine area and the bank vegetation.
The Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources does not allow swimming and wading in Montauk Spring in Montauk State Park to protect vegetation.

References Cited:
Converse, Jeffery W. 1994. Water chemistry, nutrient dynamics, and macrophyte
production of a large cold water spring. Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Missouri, 145 pp.
Larson, James W. 1969. Natural Resources Basic Data for Ozark National Scenic
Riverways. National Park Service. 255 pp.
Vineyard, Jerry D. and Gerald L. Feder. 1974. Springs of Missouri. Missouri Geological
Survey and Water Resources. 266 pp.
Revised 2/2000

Last updated: December 19, 2017

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 490
Van Buren, MO 63965


(573) 323-4236
Call (573) 323-4236 for Big Spring Entrance Station, located south of Van Buren, MO. Call (573) 226-3945 for the Alley Spring General Store, located west of Eminence, MO. Call (573) 858-3297 for Round Spring Ranger Station, located north of Eminence, MO.

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