Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summertime, the livin’ is easy

It’s mid-way through summer, I have been a busy, busy woman! The unseasonably mild weather brings big crowds to the area, which I see first hand while working at an area campground.

Last weekend, on a 70 degree July Saturday, I went to Elephant Rocks and saw more people there than I have ever seen in my entire life. And that is really saying something because I go to Elephant Rocks more than anywhere else in the area, besides work, of course!

There were cars parked alongside the edges of every piece of road that butted up to even the smallest patch of grass. Still, the crowd didn’t make the walk any less beautiful.

The massive storm that swept through the area on May 8, downing millions of trees in the Arcadia Valley and Black River Recreation Area alone, did little damage at Elephant Rocks. Perhaps the massive boulders took the brunt force of the wind, protecting the majority of the trees, or maybe it just got lucky.

Throughout the park, the work being done by the parks department was pretty obvious. There was about two inches of gravel laid alongside the current Braille trail, and several culvert pipes had been replaced. The astro-turf mats that helped to prevent slipping along the sloped portions of the trail were pulled up, leaving dirt-shaped rectangles along the trail.

It is expected that the work in the park will take several weeks, with portions of the trail being closed and detoured around while the work is being done. When completed, the trail will be wider than ever, easing the trip for wheelchair-bound nature lovers or parents pushing their children in strollers.

This morning we went to Millstream Gardens, and the storm definitely did more damage to that park than Elephant Rocks. There were several trees down alongside the paved path that leads to the river overlook.

Hayden’s favorite part about the walk is the two “troll” bridges. If you stop when you walk across them, they make such a great noise! He is also a big fan of the numerous benches along the trail. Or perhaps, it is the spiders which seem to favor spinning their beautiful, intricate webs on the benches, he thinks bugs are “cool.”

Instead of putting Kaitlyn in a stroller for this trip, she enjoyed riding in her Snuggli, now she’s big enough to face out at the world and take in all the sights. Not quite as excited about the walk as her brother, who tried to push several massive fallen trees off the edge of the trail, Kaitlyn nonetheless had a pleasant walk.

Max also loves to walk at both Elephant Rocks and Millstream Gardens, two places we’ve been taking him since he was a puppy. His only complaint is the number of squirrels that are free to roam around while he is confined to our sides by a leash. It’s hard to be a dog.

Next weekend we are hoping to finally make it back to Johnson’s Shut-Ins, which is finally re-open to the public—except for camping. We would have gone sooner, but last time we started to go, we had Max with us and dogs aren’t allowed on the boardwalk or at the shut-ins. Next time he will just have to stay at home!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Missouri Miracle—Joshua Childers found alive and well!

About 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7, a miracle happened in the Valley.

At about 11:30 Monday, May 4, three-year-old Joshua Childers slipped unnoticed out of his home while his mother was on the phone and his father, who works night shifts, was sleeping.

Anyone who has children, or has even been around children for any amount of time knows just how fast they can be.

So, Joshua slipped out, and after what couldn’t have been more than a minute or two later, his mother noticed he was missing. She woke up her husband and they looked for him for almost 45 minutes before calling the police.

A massive crew of people responded, including professional search and rescue workers, dog teams and numerous volunteers. They gridded off the area and sent searchers out to try to find him.

By nightfall, people began getting extremely worried. How could a three-year-old survive in this rough wilderness? There are all kinds of wild animals in these woods, including snakes and coyotes, to name a couple. The area around Josh’s home was heavily wooded and there were several ponds and creeks in the area that were swollen past their banks after all of the rain we have received in the area lately.

After continuing the search through the night with no signs of the little guy, the effort continued the next morning. Divers came. More professional searchers and dog teams came. Volunteers came in droves, from all over the state and surrounding area.

After several hours, one of Joshua’s shoes were found nearby a creek along with a single footprint. At the creek, which would have been at least waist deep to the three-year-old, search dogs were reported to have whined…

Things were looking worse by the minute. What if Josh fell in the creek attempting to cross it? He would have been swept away.

As nightfall neared, everyone following the story became even more worried. How could he survive another 40 degree night alone in the woods? There was also more rain forecasted, making matters worse.

By Wednesday morning, no one had given up hope, but people all over the Valley and across the nation prayed harder than ever for his safe return.

After he had been missing for 48 hours, I couldn’t stay focused on anything. I kept thinking, “How would my Hayden do it? Would he (Josh) be all right?”

The entire staff of The Mountain Echo, along with a good portion of the state and even many neighboring states, huddled around the radio, hoping to hear that he had been found.

Because it was a slow day and I couldn’t concentrate anyway, I asked my boss if I could take off after lunch and join the group of volunteers in searching for the boy. My co-worker, Ashley, had also caught up on her work and decided to join me.

At almost 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon, we arrived at Blue Mountain Methodist Camp, the staging area for search workers. We signed up on the list of volunteers and prepared ourselves to wait for as long as it took before we were called out.

In the meantime, I searched the patch of grass and clovers we were sitting by for that universal good-luck charm, the four-leafed clover. After about 10 minutes I found one! “Is this a great sign, or what,” I asked Ashley.

“My mom says you only find one when you need it most,” she replied.

“Well,” I said, “I’ll keep looking because we need all the luck we can get.”

Sure enough, within five minutes, I had found another, then another, then another. Within 20 minutes, by 4:00, I had found 9 four-leaf clovers, and was handing them out to the volunteers around me, trying to spread the luck around.

Soon, a rumble spread through the staging area . . . they had found Josh and he was alive!! It seemed almost too good to be true, so volunteers huddled around anyone they could find with a CB Radio, waiting, just waiting for the marvelous news to be confirmed.

Ashley’s mom called her and said a local radio station said that he had been found, alive and well. But still we didn’t want to get our hopes up without official confirmation.

Finally just after 4:30 it came through, the news everyone had been waiting for. . .

Joshua was found alive, unhurt and very hungry.

The tyke was over three miles away from his house when volunteer worker Donnie Halpin saw a couple of dogs gathered around something. When he went to see what it was, he saw Joshua’s naked butt, and said, “Hey, buddy.”

Josh sat right up and looked at him. Donnie said, “Do you wanna go home?” and Josh said “Yes.”

Donnie wrapped him up in his shirt and carried him out of the woods, hollering that he had found him. He called his son to call 911, and took him to the nearest house to get him cleaned up.

The woman at that home asked him if he was hungry, and what he wanted. He simply said, “Milk.”

When asked where he had been for so long, little Joshua replied, “On a hike.” He was planning on heading to his grandma’s house and amazingly, was found only 1/4 mile from there.

Eventually, Joshua said he had crossed the creek (presumably where his shoe had been found). He was upset that he had lost a shoe and wanted only hot dogs and milk.

Even more amazingly, Donnie wouldn’t have been part of the search party if it hadn’t been for the rain that so dampened everyone’s spirits. He was rained out of his construction job and decided to join the effort. He was actually separated from his group of about 20 other searchers, and was wandering around trying to find them when he practically stumbled across the boy.

Currently, Josh is in fair condition at a local hospital, with plans to be released tonight or in the morning. He is expected to be in his own bed by no later than tomorrow night.

I will never forget the sense of pure elation when I heard the news. Ashley and I hugged and cried and cheered. It was absolutely awesome. It is true that the Lord works in mysterious ways, none more mysterious that this.

Following is the only picture taken of Joshua being removed from the ambulance and taken into the hospital. It was taken by the editor of The Mountain Echo, Kevin Jenkins.

joshua childers

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gearing up for the Mountain Music Festival

With fantastic, comfortable temperatures and the welcoming sights of flowers popping up in gardens and scattered along the roadside and over the hills, there is no more beautiful time to visit the Arcadia Valley and Black River Recreation Area than in spring.

The abundant rainfall makes Mina Sauk Falls a sight to behold and there is no better time to float the Black River; the swifter waters and the lack of other people on the river makes it a fun, peaceful journey that should definitely be experienced.

For the last 3 years, the spring has brought with it the annual Arcadia Valley Mountain Music Festival, one of the most fun events that takes place in the Valley. This year, the addition of a second music festival in the fall adds another weekend of family fun and frivolity to entertain residents and guests, plus, it will take place the same weekend as the 83rd Annual Arcadia Valley Fall Festival which features the longest-running parade in the state and always brings back home those who have moved out of the Valley.

This year’s Spring Mountain Music Festival will take place May 15-17, 2009 and the lineup boasts bands that have never-before played at the Festival, plus some old favorites. I personally am excited to see the return of Valerie Smith and the Liberty Pike Band, who I sadly missed at last year’s festival. I interviewed the very friendly Valerie Smith for a feature story in The Mountain Echo last spring, and have listened to a cd, but have never seen them play in person.

With spectacular vocals and instruments that include the fiddle, mandolin, clawhammer, banjo and guitar, Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike play some rockin’ bluegrass and I am determined to see them this year as I am told they put on quite a show.

I am also excited about a band that is new to the festival, but who I have heard play several times at Bearcat Getaway, Big Smith. The six band members play rowdy and enthusiastic acoustic music inspired by their native Ozark home and always keep the crowd tapping their toes and singing along. I have loved them since the first time I heard them and I am so excited that they are joining the Mountain Musical Festival lineup.

Bobby Powell, who also sits on the music festival committee, plays the most convincing Willie Nelson I have ever seen or heard. He is great, and everyone loves Willie’s music, plus he’ll be backed up by The Country Gold Band, and Minnie Pearl, played by Anna-Marie Beard, will keep the audience laughing at her antics.

There are several acts that I have yet to see or hear, but I am looking forward to learning more about them and keeping you updated. These bands include:

The Punch Band, a family band with members ranging from age 7 and up, has won band of the year with the SPBGMA organizations several times in recent years. Two of the young cousins in the band are from nearby Fredericktown, and I am looking forward to seeing and hearing this great family band play.

Professor Farquar and the Great American Medicine Show recreates one of the 19th Century’s most popular diversions; featuring traditional tunes and amazing magic, this show offers the audience the chance to participate and all-but guarantees to keep you laughing.

The Barely Here Band is also Missouri-based, and are known for their well-crafted harmony and awesome instrumental breaks. This bluegrass band is said to bring extreme showmanship and top-notch vocals in a light-hearted and enjoyable family-style stage show.

The Barry Jones Family is a gospel group with years of musical experience. Originally from the nearby town of Graniteville, Barry has years of experience in working television and radio and works as the group leader and spokesman despite his visual handicap.

Finally, Pik’n Lik’n came together in 2001 when a few rock-n-rollers wanted to play some bluegrass (Pik'n), and the bluegrassers wanted to trade guitar licks (Lik'n). Through the years, they’ve grown and changed, playing everything from bluegrass, newgrass, classic rock, rockabilly, blues and even a bit of country, they stay busy playing in a huge array of venues. They should be a great fit at the AVMMF.

I am planning on learning more about the bands I haven’t heard and letting you know what I think. Stay tuned for future posts to keep updated. Visit the AVMMF website at to learn more. In addition to the great acts, there will be a lot of family fun at the AVMMF including events like: a Tractor Parade, Vendors, Crafters, a Hay Bailing Exhibition, a Two Man Saw Competition, Quilting, Spinning, Vintage Photos, Log Hewing, Storytelling, Buggy Rides and even a Miniature Train Ride for the kids!

Hope to see you there!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Johnson's Shut-Ins Then and Now

Johnson’s Shut-Ins has long been one of my very favorite places to visit. As a small child, my family would frequent the park in the heat of the summer, seeking the cool, clear water and fun atmosphere to make any sweltering Missouri day seem less so.
My three brothers and I even enjoyed the walk to the shut-ins, our anticipation building with each turn of the boardwalk, each time we saw the river peeking through the trees. When we made it to the top of the overlook that led to the shut-ins, it was time to go!
The sounds of the people and the water splashing, and the shouts of joy and exhilaration as a new, bigger “water-slide” was tested out, were all it took to have us racing down the often-slippery rocks to the water below, despite the warning signs to proceed with caution. What do kids care about caution when there is cold, cold water sitting there waiting just for us?
The day was filled with dares to go down this chute or that chute, or contests to see who could hold their breath the longest. Then we usually had lunch at one of the day use picnic areas, either grilling burgers, or eating cold sandwiches and chips, a perfect cap to a fun-filled day.
When the Ameren-UE hydroelectric dam known as the Taum Sauk Reservoir was breached in early one morning in December 2005, much of the world knew nothing of the billions of gallons of water rushing down the Black River’s east fork.
I myself, only miles away from the wreckage, knew nothing of the event, I had spent the morning discovering that I was expecting my first child. My mom, who was living in Lesterville, above the campground she managed and we both worked at, had been evacuated from her house and was, as was typical, congregated at Lenny’s, worrying and waiting with her friends and neighbors to learn what, if any, damage would be done to the homes and businesses along the river below the dam.
When I called her to tell her I was pregnant, she was in no frame of mind to learn that her only daughter, while happily married, was expecting a child, but I delivered the news to her anyway, heaping some good, if unexpected, news on her at an already eventful time (to say the least).
Now Johnson’s Shut-Ins is not quite what it used to be, but they are currently working on making it better than ever, adding features and more ways to experience nature in the beautiful, once ravished, park.
On January 3, volunteers organized by the trail association met to begin rebuilding two miles of the Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail running through the state park. They'll also build a 1.5-mile loop trail that will connect the Ozark Trail to a new trailhead on Missouri Highway N, which runs from Graniteville (just outside of Ironton) to Lesterville.
When complete, the new two-mile trail segment will follow the East Fork of the Black River high above the shut-ins, with views of the river valley and a channel that was scoured from the reservoir breach, and rejoin the original route further downstream.
The day use loop trail will connect a new trail head on Hwy N to the Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail. It will feature a pavilion at the mouth of the scour area and a viewing deck that will show the valley's devastation.
I would have loved to attend any of the eight trail-building events planned for weekends in January and February but, I was still hugely pregnant on the 3rd, and through the next month or so, I will be at home, spending time with the newest addition to my family, Kaitlyn, who was born on the evening of January 6, only two days later than expected. We are so excited (and exhausted!) now that our beautiful daughter Kaitlyn is here, but I still hope to be able to attend one of the two "mega" trail-building events on April 4 and May 2 which will offer free camping at Johnson's Shut-Ins, even before the park opens, free lunch and live bluegrass music.
Anyone interested in helping should sign up on the Ozark Trail Association's Web site. Space is limited, so sign up soon, Johnson’s Shut-In’s needs all of the helpers it can get to have the park open and ready for us, our kids, and even their kids to enjoy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Getting Acquainted

Hi, my name is Mary and I’m a 26-year-old mother and writer living in Ironton, Missouri, a portion of the Arcadia Valley and Black River Recreation Area. Sometimes it is hard to believe this peaceful and beautiful valley is my home, but no matter how many times I go away, I always return.
My parents lived here when I was born and although we moved away when I was quite young, we returned a few years later. For the last 18 years, I have roamed the region, exploring hiking trails, state parks and other beautiful outdoor recreation locations. I’ve visited area antique shops, bed and breakfasts and boutiques, and have worked at local businesses as a teenager and now.
After graduating from Arcadia Valley High School in 2000, I began working at a campground in Lesterville. That fall, I began attending Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. While I worked during the school year in Cape, in the summers I remained as devoted to the sparkling, crisp water of the Black River as I had throughout the summers of my youth, and working at a campground couldn’t be beat.
The clear, cool water of the Black River is not to be rivaled on a hot, muggy Missouri summer day. From a tube float on a sunny afternoon to a raft float down the river on a moonlit summer’s night, there are few other ways I would chose to spend a day-or night-in the summer.
After graduating from Southeast in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in English, I married my best friend, Chris, another long-time Valley resident, and we got our first “kid,” an Australian Shepherd puppy named Max. As lively and energetic now as when he was a pup, the now 70+ pound dog still favors a trip to Elephant Rocks over nearly anything. We can’t even mention the name of the local boulder-filled state park without Max running to the door and begging, neither quietly nor patiently, for us to get up and take him there.
A year later, we were blessed with our first child, a son named Hayden. It seems as if there could never be any child who loves to be outside more than Hayden does. During the warm fall months, his favorite form of entertainment was to collect fallen acorns and hazelnuts from along the path at Elephant Rocks or Millstream Gardens. Even during these frozen winter months when his playground and sandbox are covered in snow and ice, he constantly asks to go outside and slide or ride his tricycle, no matter how cold it is.
After getting married, we decided to stay in the Valley, fond of the friendly people and the good and safe schools. For the last year, I have worked at the local newspaper, The Mountain Echo, where I have a chance to work out my creative and journalistic muscles. It is a job I enjoy more than I ever thought I would, due in part to the wonderful people I work with daily and the fascinating and unique people I have had the chance to interview for stories.
Now we are expecting our second (and final!) child, a girl, due in early January. As the weather warms and she grows, we will continue to haunt our favorite places and visit the places in the area we have yet to explore. Through this blog I hope to share those and past experiences with you and answer any questions you may have about the area. Please feel free to ask away and I will do my best to find the answer or point you in the right direction if I don’t already know the answer. Keep checking back for updates as I share my experiences and knowledge of the area, both old and new.