More than 1,400 people have joined a movement to bring recreation back to a Christian County landmark.

As of June 21, they had $2,400 with which to create some momentum.

David Romano, a college professor and an avid outdoorsman, is one of the administrators of an online group called “Lindenlure Finley River for the Public.” Their mission is to find a way to allow the general public to access the Finley River at the Lindenlure Dam, just off of State Highway 125 between Sparta and Rogersville.

A set of pipe rail gates and concrete barriers at the end of of Canyon Road stop cars from driving further onto the gravel banks of the Finley River. The gates, which were first reported sometime between March 7 and March 9, are there to prevent people from accessing to a portion of the river below the Lindenlure Dam.

Romano thought of the times he took his children to Lindenlure.

“They learned how to swim here,” Romano said.

He wanted to do something, he just wasn’t sure what. He found that there were others from his previous trips to Lindenlure, including groups that do organized trash cleanup events, who shared his views.

“This isn’t right — 100 years, people have been going here. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve got some sense of public access rights established over time,” Romano said. “I started talking to some people.”

Romano said he sent emails to county commissioners, to Sheriff Brad Cole, to Christian County’s attorney John Housley, to the Christian County Office of Planning and Development and to the Christian County Highway Department. He also contacted the Missouri Department of Transportation in effort to determine the locations of easements for Highway 125.

“Some Christian County officials just recently, and this is part of the mystery to me, started saying Canyon Road is only public to where the pavement ends,” Romano said. “According to easement laws, if you’ve been maintaining something for 10 years or more, it’s public. And we’re not just talking about asphalt. These no parking signs? That’s part of maintenance.”

Along what was a gravel road that river visitors used to take canoes and other provisions to the water, several “No parking” signs have been hung on trees on the uphill side of the river bank. 

From photographs, the gate appears to be on private property at the end of Canyon Road. The Headliner News’ efforts to contact the property owners have been unsuccessful.

The land that the gate crosses over appears to be part of a 48.7-acre tract that the owners acquired in 2009, according to records from the Christian County Assessor’s Office.

Romano and the Lindenlure Finley River for the Public Group want to find solutions that everyone, neighboring property owners and visitors can agree on.

“We don’t want to be the landowners’ enemies,” Romano said.

The online group has a GoFundMe account that has generated $2,400 toward the cause of restoring access to the Finley River at Linden in one way or another. The group, Romano said, is in the early stages of working with an attorney with experience in laws related to property.

One option would be for the public group, the government arms of Christian County and the property owners at Lindenlure to come to an agreement that allows for a public easement from Canyon Road to the river.

A second option, Romano said, would be to raise enough money to buy a piece of property on the river, then find a way to make the land publicly accessible.

A third option would be for the rights to river access to be decided through a lawsuit. Romano said he and the administrators of the online group want to avoid litigation if at all possible.

“Those things can get expensive, and we’re in it for the long haul, if we have to be,” Romano said. “We just want public access back, and as soon as we have it, we want to help the landowners keep a better handle. We had cleanup groups that I was a part of, but my idea is prevention groups, river patrols that offer people trash bags and sensitive them to the issues.”

Lidenlure, as recently as the fall of 2019, was a destination for hundreds of people each year, nestled on the Finley River off of Missouri Highway 125 east of Ozark and north of Sparta. The area on and below Lindenlure Dam is a popular spot for swimming, fishing, picnics and other methods of enjoying the outdoors.

It sat deserted all weekend.

It was once known for unruly behavior, including fights, public intoxication, illegal drug use and sexual assaults. In recent years, its reputation had mellowed, in part thanks to an increased presence of sheriff’s deputies and some grassroots efforts to clean up the river. Romano said he felt safe taking his own kids and their friends to Lindenlure for a day on the river, and did so countless times.

In 2017, a group of neighboring property owners approached the Christian County Commission about increasing police presence at Lindenlure. In the past, residents had hired Christian County sheriff’s deputies to work overtime and provide extra security, but that agreement with the sheriff’s office eventually ended.

“I recognize they’ve had some hassle by the small minority of people who are hooligans that the sheriff had to control,” Romano said.

Christian County was the site of a dispute over the legal opinion surrounding a law called the Equal Footing Doctrine, which allows persons to move as they please along any federally navigable waterway. They may stay below the high-water mark on a river, provided they don’t cross above the high-water mark and onto private property. Much of the argument on the Finley River involves the location of the high water mark, and exactly where on the river bank a person would be allowed to walk, and at what point they would be trespassing on private land.

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