Ozarks Conservation Program Coordinator Marisa Frazier on a walking bridge at Ozark Mountain State Park.

At a public meeting June 27, state officials discussed current plans for Ozark Mountain State Park. The meeting covered the topics of park management, safety and security, the natural resources found on the property and conceptual development planning.  

According to Ben Ellis, Missouri State Parks director, the land that makes up the Ozark Mountain State Park was acquired after a lawsuit between the states and an oil company. The oil company was found to have caused unnecessary damage to land and water around the United States, including Missouri. Ellis said that, from the lawsuit, the oil company was asked to pay $5.15 billion to help the states that were effected recover. The money paid to Missouri allowed them to purchase land in several parts of the state now slated to become parks, including the Ozark Mountain State Park. 

“The perimeter is pretty much all done, we’re probably about 60% complete with the signage. We still have the whole [area] from Highway 248 almost down to Highway 76 and 465 corridor that we still have to get our signs in,” Carl Bonnell, natural resource manager, said. Bonnell said placing has been a challenge because of the limestone that makes up much of the land. 

“We have had a little bit of vandalism over here since we have acquired the property. Some broken out windows on [properties], a door a couple months ago got busted up with a pipe,” Bonnell said. 

He urged members of the community and residents living in the area to keep an eye out for activity and to report it to State Park officials. 

“Missouri State Parks is all about family-friendly environments. When you’re hiking, you’re camping, canoeing, whatever it is ... Tom and his rangers are the ones that protect that,” Ellis said.

Col. Tom Dresner, with the Park Rangers, discussed the role of the rangers and how they plan to create a safe environment for the public. He said, though the public may not see a ranger, they are always close by, and if there are concerns about trespassing or vandalism happening, residents in the area can call the rangers at the Table Rock State Park and they can respond. 

“We are considered the police for the state parks,” Dresner said.

According to Dresner, the rangers are fully trained law enforcement, have gone through the academy and are able to write citations and perform other types of police work as needed.

Natural Resource Steward Chris Crabtree was at the meeting to describe the components of the park that make it what it is. Crabtree said one of the many assets of the park is its access to Roark Creek, which makes its way through much of the park. Since, he said, the park would include 2.2 miles of Roark Creek and the surrounding land that helps keep the ground water that feeds the creek uncontaminated, it would help restore the creek. 

“We were looking at watershed protection or our below ground water protection, here the thing about overall watershed, Roark Creek itself has a 40-square-mile watershed,” Crabtree said, regarding the importance of the park surrounding Roark Creek. 

The state park encompasses a good portion of this land with the low valleys and high ridges and plains, known as bald knobs. 

Though many of the bald knobs are covered by ceder trees, Crabtree said, historically, the land would face fire on the high points with only the deep valleys safe. These fires kept the land bare of trees and, instead, rich with grass and other vegetation. He said the state hopes to restore these bald knobs to what they historically were by using fire to help reduce the ceder growth.

“From these bald knobs are these very, very steep drainages moving directly into the east fork [of Roark Creek]. As you come off Roark Creek and move yourself up into those other lands you immediately have the smaller tributaries which, during wet weather conditions and spring, have a lot of water moving through them. They’re really rich areas in terms of both the tree species and the native ground floor there,” Crabtree said. This creates rich pools throughout the area and keeps water moving in the creek, he explained. 

By having water in the creek and the surrounding tributaries, Crabtree continued, it creates wet zones in the hot, dry glades that foster the perfect environment for unique species and other more common species of vegetation. 

These glades are another major component to the park, Crabtree said. 

“Some of them are becoming infested with ceders, as you can see, and others show remnants of past land use and fences,” Crabtree said. Both of these, he explained, are things that the Missouri State Parks is going to be working on throughout the next years as the park is developed for recreational use. 

While surveying the land and beginning work on the restoration, Crabtree said the natural resource teams were finding unique species that are often rare to find and species that are only found in Missouri. 

“Those are what that make this area unique. Those are the things that we like to hold on to,” Crabtree said. “The state of Missouri has just over 3,000 plant species. [The park] already got almost 600, over 600 just within this one site alone. Many of those are White River endemic species.”

Crabtree said it is these species that he and his team wants to preserve throughout the park. They will perform monitoring and maintain efforts in the area to restore park area and Roark Creek to its historical environment now and in the future to help restore the park area and Roark Creek, Crabtree explained. 

“The mission of state parks ... is to protect and interpret Missouri’s most special places that are natural and cultural places and to provide recreational opportunities for that,” Missouri State Parks Deputy Director Mike Sutherland said regarding the conceptual development planning process of Ozark Mountain State Park. He continued on to say that when developing the park, they want to focus on and highlight the cultural and natural resources. 

Sutherland said before the park can open, they must rely on the other aspects of the Missouri State Parks to come up with the best plan for the park. He also said that, as they are planning, they want to speak to residents who have lived in the area, to help them create the best plan for the surroundings. They are planning to host many meetings throughout this coming year to get ideas and hear what residents want to see. 

According to Ellis, as of right now, there is no confirmed date for the park to open as it is still in the development and planning stage. 

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