Clay County ends ban on mushroom hunting after exchange between park ranger, hunter

Data pix.

CLAY COUNTY, Mo. -- If you've picked mushrooms in Clay County before, you've likely broken the law.

It's been illegal to pick mushrooms and other crops on park property until now. On Monday, county leaders changed the rule that's been on the books for 35 years. The change came out of what some might call a "morel" issue.

It started with an exchange between a Clay County park ranger and a mushroom hunter that was captured on body camera. You can hear the ranger tell the man mushroom hunting is not allowed on park property. Something he tells the ranger they weren't aware of.

The hunter wouldn't give an interview with FOX4, but we spoke with his father, Doug Lowe, about the conversation.

"It's pretty basic," Lowe said. "If you're out there trying to pick spores off the ground, why bother someone?"

The county said after the interaction, false accusations were made against the ranger.

The county said in a statement: "This false statement claimed that our ranger threatened to issue citations and even arrest a private citizen for mushroom hunting."

"This is what I'm doing, giving everyone information," the ranger said in the body cam video. "On park land it's a no-go. Anywhere in the yellow, anywhere in the yellow, they're letting them pick it."

The man on the video said he understood and would move to another area. The ranger gives him a map of the area, and he thanks him as he leaves.

"It implied that if you don't leave and you do find mushrooms after being told that you can't pick them here, that you'd be arrested," Lowe said. "My son said ticketed. It was pretty obvious."

The county denies these claims, but the controversy surrounding the interaction brought up the "morel" issue. Chief Park Ranger John Davis proposed an amendment to the ordinance at Monday's County Commission meeting.

"This would allow for personal consumption and collection of not only morel mushrooms, but edible plants and fruit bodies, to include mushrooms, berries, and nuts up to one gallon per person per day," Davis said.

The commission voted in favor of amending the ordinance after some tweaks and changes in chambers. The limitation also says mushrooms and other edibles cannot be picked for commercial use.

The county released a statement following the meeting and the release of the body camera video to FOX4:

"We want to thank FOX4 for reporting on the facts. We commend the men and women of our Park Ranger Division for their commitment to keeping employees and public guests safe, even sometimes putting their own life on the line."

While the county and Lowe still disagree on the interaction, there is one thing they can both agree on.

"Leave the people alone while they're picking mushrooms. What is the harm in walking around and looking for a mushroom?" Lowe said.

The county said the original ordinance was adopted in 1984 and prohibited the removal of any plants for any purpose. They said the change was long overdue and needed a fresh look by the current commission, and they thank them for their quick action.

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