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(Van Buren) – A little-known federal policy is ruffling some feathers in the region, and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways is seeking to get the word out on the policy.

ONSR has announced that park officials are now actively enforcing a policy that requires groups, including churches, to apply for a special-use permit to hold events including baptisms on their riverways, which include the Jacks Fork and Current Rivers and their tributaries.

ONSR Information Officer Faye Walmsley told Ozark Radio News Tuesday afternoon that the Riverways has asked that people participating in weddings and first amendment activities, including church events, demonstrations, and press events, to call and apply for a special use permit for over 20 years, however the rule wasn’t strictly enforced until 2006. Now, she says ONSR is now working to get the word out on the policy.

Walmsley told us the policy is in place to give the park information on when and where the event is taking place for safety precautions and to prevent scheduling conflicts, giving us an example of when a wedding party showed up during ONSR’s annual Haunting in the Hills event in October. She says that letting the park know when and where you’ll be performing your activity will help stop these conflicts, and let parties know if another group is using that section of the park that day.

Walmsley stressed that the permit is free, and that ONSR asks for at least a two business day notice before the activity. The option of a “master permit”, good for one year, is also available for churches and other groups wanting to use a section of the park at the same time every week or month. Walmsley adds that the process for the “master permit” is the same, and that it is also free.

Walmsley says that at this time, there are no penalties for not getting a permit as the park is working to get the word out about them, but that could change in the future.

If you have questions or would like to get a permit, call ONSR at 573-323-4236.

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