An Oregon County circuit court judge has ruled that a state agency can't buy some key land along the Eleven Point River to create an Eleven Point State Park.


Circuit Judge Steven Privette agreed with nearby landowners who sued the Department of Natural Resources to block it from acquiring 625 acres of land along the river that had previously been designated a Wild and Scenic Easement.


The Wild and Scenic Easement bars use of the land for boat access to the river, or for camping or other recreational uses. The judge agreed with the landowners' argument that since the land couldn't be used by the public, the state parks agency could not use tax dollars to buy it.


"As presented to the Court at trial, DNR has acquired as a state park lands which cannot under any reasonable interpretation be used as a state park," Privette wrote. "As such its actions are arbitrary and capricious."


Privette ordered the department to divest itself of the land it acquired in the Wild and Scenic Easement.


A spokeswoman for the department declined to comment on the judge's ruling.


The Missouri Sierra Club, which has supported creation of the Eleven Point State Park from the beginning, urged state officials to appeal the decision.


"Sierra Club believes the judge issued a flawed decision that will result in the loss of the Eleven Point State Park without an appeal," said Jennifer Conner, chapter chair of club.


"We encourage Governor Parson and Attorney General Schmidt to appeal the decision because state parks are beneficial for rural economies and provide places of refuge for Missourians throughout the state, especially during COVID-19. We encourage citizens who care about our state parks to contact the Governor and Attorney General and ask them to appeal the decision."


The state purchased 4,197 acres in Oregon County with plans to create Eleven Point State Park. However, 625 of those acres that run along the edges of the Eleven Point River carry the Wild and Scenic Easement, barring public use or access.


The easement was established when 44 miles of the Eleven Point River was designated a national scenic river in 1968. The easement and land in question lies along the Eleven Point River, from Thomasville to the State Route 42 bridge in Oregon County.


The U.S. Forest Service manages the easement, but the judge found that the state agency made no effort to work out an arrangement with the Forest Service to modify the strict rules barring public access in the easement.


Without access to the river within the acreage the department purchased for the new state park, a key reason for establishing a park on the river became moot with the judge's order.


Even if the judge's order stands, Conner said there are still viable reasons to move forward with the new state park.


"Even if parks would not be allowed to operate a boat ramp there are put-ins and take-outs above and below the park that could be used," she said. "There is also the historic farm where the Beatles stayed on this property so there are many different fascinating aspects to the park-land!"


"We are worried that this ruling, if not challenged in a higher court, will result in losing the entire park," Conner said.


The landowners who sued are Van and Elizabeth McGibney and trustee James Conner. The News-Leader has reached out to their attorneys, Devin and Derrick Kirby of Doniphan, for a comment on the judge's ruling.