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Show Me the Ozarks

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One-Tank Trip Series Take a one-tank trip on Route 66

When Dan Beckner wants to take a walk in the park, he knows just where to go. His heart will take him to Hidden Waters Nature Park in Marshfield, 9.4 incredible acres of walking trails and wooden bridges that wind through the head waters of the Niangua River. A native of rural Marshfield, Beckner, 74, bought the three original acres for the park in 1998, of necessity. It was about to be parceled and sold for residential development. Using private funds, he and other volunteers created the park without public funds. Last fall, they added 2.5 additional acres.

Lanin Thomasman at Art & Joe in Steelville.

Lanin Thomasman at Art & Joe in Steelville.

Having moved to Springfield, he realized it was more than he could handle alone, so he began recruiting both volunteers and private donations. “The only government help we’ve had was for a federal grant had to match,” he says over coffee.

Hidden Waters Nature Park

Although Hidden Waters Nature Park was donated to the City of Marshfield, “Friends of Hidden Waters” still provides the TLC, from tending the gardens to mowing. At 6:30 p.m., on Saturday, June 8, the park will feature Southern Gospel, Classic Instrumental, and American Folk-Pop Vocals during the annual Callaway Cabin Concert. The cabin was donated by the family of Dr. Guy Callaway, having been moved from its original site where it was built in 1852. The “Friends” are currently putting the final work into another walking path, and look forward to another pedestrian bridge soon. All you need is your own lawn chair to perhaps turn back the clock and walk in the park. Just take the I-44 exit to CC (Old Route 66), then to 716 Hubble. And be careful using your GPS to guide you. It could be a bubble off. Hidden Waters Nature Park (on Facebook) is just one stop along the Historic Route 66, which also can also an unexpected history lesson in technology.

Vacuum Cleaner Museum

Meet Tom Gasko, the friendly curator at the Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James (VacuumMuseum.com), who will show you his personal collection of historic vacuum cleaners, some manufactured upstairs, including the vacuum cleaner used on Air Force One. Turns out vacuum cleaners are as much a part of American life as, well, dirt. Gasko has the dirt on virtually every chapter of vacuum cleaner history, including the reason vacuum cleaners had headlights (and still do, but we’re not telling). And when you leave, you will be saying, “I didn’t know I wanted to know that much about vacuum cleaners.” It’s another free visit. Click any photo thumbnail below to start a gallery of large images with captions.

Explore Steelville

When you arrive in historic Steelville, you will have entered an era whose heyday was the Roaring Twenties, but whose time is now. Arrive for a carefully timed lunch at The Soda Fountain, but plan to linger at every stop. You can do your research at ExploreSteelville.com, but this is a place that beckons you back. Enter Wildwood Springs Lodge, a pristine lady so elegant for her day with the shiny original hardwood that you might not think this was the era of Dirty Dancing, slot machines,where the big bands played, libations were enjoyed, food was served on the American Plan (typically, three meals a day, served at hotels in a remote location where there are not many restaurants). It was a plan, allright, for the kind of fun you might not think was ever in the Ozarks. But it was, and is. These days, fraternities (and perhaps sororities) rent the entire space to make more memories. The Meramec Music Theatre was recently purchased by the Steelville Arts Council (STARCO) for use by the school district, but will continue to provide gospel concerts as well as other shows. By any measure, Steelville has a remarkable past. It offered public education at the Steelville Academy beginning in 1851, public schools in 1886, and a college education at the Steelville Normal and Business Institute in 1890. Founded in 1835 by the James Steel along the Meramac, the Huzzah, and the Curtois (pronounced “Cotaway”), the town survived the “great flood of 1898) and the great fire in 1904. Many businesses in the area of Steelville offer rentals of canoes, rafts, and inner-tubes for float trips along with camping. The summers in Steelville are full of “floaters” who return to the lodges by the thousands. A favorite and revered son is Dr. John Zahorsky, perhaps the most influential pediatrician in history, is buried in Steelville, having returned to his hometown to practice “country medicine” after a decades-long practice in St. Louis. He died in 1963.

Meramec Spring State Park

Maramec Spring Park contains the fifth largest spring in the state. An average of 100 million gallons of water flows from the Spring daily. Maramec Spring Park contains 1,860 acres of forest and fields. In the early days Maramec iron was used for kettles, plows, and other utensils that could be hauled in wagons. Eventually products such as bar and pig iron were floated down the Meramec and Gasconade Rivers to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. When the railroad arrived, the iron-laden oxen teams traveled to stops at St.James and Gray Summit to use this new form of shipping. By the Middle 1850’s, modernized hot-blast furnaces, coke fuel, and the opening of Sault Ste. Marie Canal were affecting the need for Maramec iron. Fortunately, the tremendous demands brought on by the Civil War helped keep the Maramec Iron Works in business until 1876 when the furnaces finally grew cold. Their remains along with other relics are still in place, a haunting reminder of how quickly nature can reclaim what it does not use. Following the death of William James in 1912, His granddaughter, Lucy Wortham James, acquired ownership of Maramec Spring along with the forest and farmlands surrounding it in 1920. Upon her death in 1938, she made her residuary estate a part of a Trust and authorized creation of the James Foundation. To her executors she wrote:

“As this is considered to be the most beautiful spot in Missouri, it is my great hope that you will arrange that it may ever be in private, considerate control, and ever open to the enjoyment of the people.”

The 200-acre public use area of the park provides many amenities and activities for visitors, including a cafe, store, camping grounds, wildlife viewing, fish feeding, picnicking, shelters, playgrounds and fishing. The Meramec River flows through the park providing excellent fishing as well as floating. Private cabins are available for rent throughout the area. The park itself is open year-round to the public. A daily entry fee is required to enter the park from mid-February through October. Annual passes may be purchased at the park. Maramec Spring Park is privately owned and operated by The James Foundation. The James Foundation is a non-profit organization incorporated in the State of Missouri. Call 573-265-7387 for more information, or visit meramecspringpark.com.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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