This Month’s National Park Trivia Challenge: Name This Artist!
Q: The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is the largest national park site in Missouri, with caves, historic mills, and two wandering rivers that offer some of the best canoeing in the Midwest. One prolific Missouri-born painter had a deep love for this park and immortalized its lush landscape in this 1963 work of art. Who was this painter?
A: The renowned Regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was no stranger to the striking landscapes of the Ozarks; he was born and raised on the ancient mountain range’s western edge.
It was likely on a floating and fishing trip along Missouri’s Current River that Benton first laid eyes on Cave Spring. This dramatic natural opening in the region’s porous karst topography sends clean, cold water gushing into the river, and is large enough that visitors can even paddle into it with their canoes. It is a sight so vivid, in a setting so tranquil and full of natural beauty, it is no wonder Benton was inspired to immortalize a languid summer day here in his painting, Cave Spring.
But then again, anyone taking the time to visit this part of the Ozarks is likely to walk away inspired. In 1964, just one year after Benton created his painting, Congress acted to protect the beauty and natural attributes of the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers by establishing the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. This National Park Service site includes 80,000 acres of lands protected from development and open for a wide range of recreational uses, including hiking, hunting, fishing, and camping. Canoeing is the most popular of all activities at the park, and is one of the two ways to get to that same point depicted in Thomas Hart Benton’s masterpiece. The other option is to hike the Cave Spring Trail to this beautiful vista.
But as often is the case with our treasured National Park Service sites, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways runs the risk of being “loved to death.” Years of lax management have allowed harmful trails and roads to be forged through these spring-fed rivers, resulting in riverbank erosion, reduced plant and wildlife habitat, and unsafe bacteria levels in certain stretches of the rivers. With an estimated 1.3 million visitors to the area each year, it is important to balance access and enjoyment with conservation to ensure that the natural beauty that inspired Thomas Hart Benton remains intact.
To protect the beauty and long-term health of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, NPCA is urging the National Park Service to create a commonsense management plan for the park that will redirect some recreational activities to areas where damage to natural resources will be minimal, establish levels of use that keep the rivers cleaner, and allow damaged areas to heal. Following some basic conservation principles, we believe that visitors will be able to continue to visit and enjoy the activities they love while protecting the parks and adding to the local economy.