Park service seeking comments on Rush improvements

Morning Star Community landscape character area includes three component areas: Morning Star Hotel, Mill, and Mine Community; House Row; and Hicks Hotel.

About 40 people turned out Tuesday evening, Oct. 23, at the Boone County Library in Harrison where the National Park Service made a presentation regarding the Rush Historic District Cultural Landscape Report and Environmental Assessment.

Comments from the public will be taken until Nov. 5 on the report which proposes alternatives for improving the condition of the remaining structures and surrounding landscape, and also proposes new ways to bring the stories alive for visitors.

The Rush Historic District in the lower section of the Buffalo National River preserves the remains of the mining community that first developed in the 1880s when zinc deposits were discovered in the rock outcrops of Rush Mountain. The community grew from individual prospectors' digs to full-scale industrial zinc mining that contained vast room-and-pillar mines, zinc concentrating mills, and support structures.

The start of World War I brought new demand for zinc, which led to a mining boom with ten different companies operating 14 separate mines in the area.

Falling prices for zinc after the war's end meant closures of several mines, with the last one - New White Eagle Mine - closing in 1962.

The Cultural Landscape Report was presented by park service staff during the program that began at 5:30 p.m. Buffalo National River Archeologist Suika Rivett, who is based at the park's headquarters in Harrison, served as the facilitator.

Other NPS staff on hand included Superintendent Mark Foust, Public Information Officer Caven Clark and Natural Resource Program Manager Chuck Bitting.

Rivett projected on a screen photos of the town both then and now and maps showing points of interest such as House Row, Morning Star Hotel, Mill and Mine community, Hicks Hotel and many of the mines and mine complexes.

Little in the way of improvements have been made in the historic district in many years. Clark noted some minor road construction has been done to battle erosion, and in 2011 some stabilization was done to preserve the 1899 Taylor-Medley General Store. Gates were installed at mine entrances to protect bat species susceptible to white nose syndrome. Most recently, volunteers built a self-guided interpretive trail leading to some of the mines.

More work is needed on the Morning Star Trail. Additional stabilization is needed on the buildings on House Row and mine exteriors. A need exists to identify how to best secure the mines as existing chainlink fencing is not compatible or historically appropriate. The biggest need is removal of vegetation so that visitors can have a more accurate view of what the community originally looked like historically.

Recommendations include developing “digital media to provide virtual access to the historic Rush Mining district and the prehistoric Rush campsite. Digital, cross-platform 3-D media will allow audiences to ‘see what can’t be seen.’ ”

Clark explained the technology would allow a visitor to use a tablet or cell phone to virtually see the structures and landscapes in particular areas of the park as they would have looked in the past.

Other alternative plans call for further vegetation removal, erosion control projects, additional repair of structures and additional parking.

Some comments made by members of the audience focused on the significance of the sawmill and a need for a visitors center.

While the public is encouraged to propose things they would like to see it should keep in mind the costs involved.

Rivett said she would like to see the area clear cut the way the community would have been when it was created. But cleared areas would have to be maintained at a cost.

Ultimately, cost will determine what is possible.

Last Monday, a similar open house was held at Tyler Bend Visitor Center for the public to learn and comment on the proposed mountain bike trail system near the campground.

The goal of this project is to improve the trail system in the park, and increase the utilization of the trails and campground at Tyler Bend. An added benefit would be to test the feasibility of allowing mountain biking on select trails in non-wilderness areas of the park.

The trail system at Tyler Bend currently consists of 6.1 miles of hiking trails including the River View Trail (0.9 mi), Collier Homestead/River View Trail (0.5 mi), Return Trail (0.4 mi), Spring Hollow Trail (0.9 mi), Buck Ridge Trail (0.8 mi), Rock Wall Trail (0.9 mi) and Buffalo River Trail (2.2 mi). These trails are all hiking only, with the exception of the Collier Homestead/River View trail which is minimally wheelchair accessible. Mountain biking is currently not allowed on any park trails, but is allowed on roadways open to public traffic. Major changes could include allowing mountain biking on the Tyler Bend Trails; changing the River View Trail (heading to the Collier Homestead) to be universally accessible, and rerouting two segments of trail. Implementing the plan, depending on the alternative selected, could be a potential partnership project with private philanthropic and mountain biking organizations.

Editors note: The park is taking comments electronically. For the Tyler Bend Trails project at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/tylerbendtrails, and for the Rush Cultural Landscape Report at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/RushCLR. You can also pick up a paper comment form from Park Headquarters in Harrison, Steel Creek Ranger Station, Tyler Bend Visitor Center, or Buffalo Point Ranger Station, or you can email your comments to buff_superintendent@nps.gov. There are printed review copies available for reading in the Reading Room, Boone County Library, 221 W. Stephenson, Harrison. Following the public review period, which lasts until November 6, 2018, the park will review all feedback, finalize the proposal, and determine how, or if, to implement the proposed changes.

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