Meaning of personal watercraft ban clarified; law takes effect April 20

Meaning of personal watercraft ban clarified; law takes effect April 20 When the National Park Service (NPS) announced it would ban the use of personal watercraft along portions of the Missouri River, phones started ringing immediately in Game, Fish and Parks offices.

Personal watercraft (PWCs) are small vessels commonly known by their trademark names � Jet Skis, Waverunners or Sea-Doos. The federal rule, effective April 20, prohibits the use of personal watercraft along portions of the Missouri River from Fort Randall Dam to Niobrara, and from Gavins Point Dam to Ponca.

The combined 98 miles of river are part of the Missouri National Recreation River, and fall under the management of the NPS.

John Cooper, secretary of the SD Department of Game, Fish and Parks, said many people have contacted his staff with questions and concerns. He stressed that his agency was not involved in developing the rule, and his officers have no authority to enforce the restriction.

"Our officers are responsible for enforcement of 'state' statutes and department rules affecting the operation of boats and watercraft," he said. "This ban, however, is a federal action and will fall on the federal government, in particular the NPS, to enforce. Furthermore, the ban will not extend to other waters in the state," Cooper added.

Paul Hedron serves as superintendent for the Missouri National Recreation River, and operates out of O'Neill, NE. He said that once the ban goes into effect on April 20, operating PWCs along the two river segments, as within nearly all units of the NPS, will be illegal. However, at this time, the NPS does not have enforcement staff on location to patrol for violations.

"Although we do not have local enforcement staff at the present time, our intent is to add rangers in the future," Hedron said. "In the meantime, our efforts will be focused on informing and educating the public to ensure a smooth transition."

According to the NPS, the final rule prohibits PWC use in national park areas unless the NPS determines that this type of water-based recreational activity is appropriate for a specific park based on the legislation establishing that area, the park's resources and values, other visitor uses of the area, and overall management objectives. NPS said in a March 31 news release that PWC use has been controversial in many places throughout the country. NPS's concerns, coupled with an analysis of the comments received, led the agency to conclude that PWC use is inappropriate in most areas of the National Park System, and appropriate in only a small number of areas.

The present rule was proposed and opened for public comment in September of 1998. By November of that year, the NPS received more than 20,000 written responses.

"The National Park Service is charged with protecting this nation's natural and cultural heritage while providing for the public's enjoyment of the places entrusted to our care," said NPS Director Robert Stanton. "Because of this mandate, we adopted a prudent approach to managing personal watercraft that allows their use, yet protects park values, sensitive natural areas, and plants and animals, and reduces conflicts with park visitors who seek solitude and traditional recreational activities such as canoeing and hiking."

For more information on the new NPS personal watercraft rule, contact Paul Hedron, superintendent, National Scenic Riverways, P.O. Box 591, O'Neill, NE 68763. Hedron can also be reached by calling (402) 336-3970.

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