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!