COLUMBIA – Carole Newman is not a regular at Cooper's Landing, but she wanted to visit the riverside marina and music venue Sunday before the cold snap hit.
With a multitude of picnic tables and an unhindered view of the Missouri River, Cooper’s Landing is a great place to sit back and enjoy the day. To get there, Newman took the scenic drive along Easley River Road, a gravel lane along the southwest border of Boone County that she’s been traveling for 30 years. She calls it a “freedom road.”
“It's an escape from Columbia,” Newman said. “It follows the river, and there are so many places to stop. You can pull over and collect your thoughts.”
“It’s an easy road,” she said.
Others might not agree. While Easley River Road is certainly picturesque, allowing travelers an up-close view of the Missouri River, some say, it might be too close.
Parts of Easley River Road are sliding into the Big Muddy.
Abutted by a rocky bluff on one side and a straight descent into the river on the other, much of the road is narrow, allowing only one car to pass at a time. Except for the occasional tree, or the slight hill of dirt pushed to the side after recent floods, there is no barrier to prevent vehicles from dropping into the river. Because the road is so low, flooding is frequent.
County officials are aware of the challenges facing Easley River Road, and they hope a potential partnership between Boone County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will solve the problem.
"We're hopeful they will partner with us to come up with a solution to basically save the road," Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin said.
Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson made a call to the Corps of Engineers and checked out the road himself a few weeks ago. On Wednesday, he accompanied a corps engineer on a survey of the road. The corps plans to return soon for a second look before it develops a specific plan.
“We think the bank has been eroding,” Pearson said. “The idea is to preserve both the road and the Katy Trail.”
“It looks like we’re going to get some assistance,” Pearson said. “They are going to send a team out to do further evaluation to see what can be done and develop the plan.”
Pearson said he is happy the corps responded within a few weeks of his initial call and to see progress on a plan.
“Their goal is to maintain the channel of the river, so they will place rock in order to achieve that goal,” Pearson said. “There are limits to what they can do. They will only go up to a certain distance on the bank.”
Pearson said the county will assist the corps in any way it can. There’s a possibility that the necessary work will exceed the limitations of what the corps can do.
“Then we will have to look to see if there are any additional things that we can do,” Pearson said.
Cooper’s Landing owner Mike Cooper said he drives Easley River Road three or four days a week.
“It's always dangerous, because so much of it is just one lane,” Cooper said. “There are great big, long stretches where two cars meet going in opposite directions. One of them needs to pull over and stop.”
Cooper, who owns a business on Easley River Road, has seen first-hand how dangerous the road can be. Even a split-second distraction could lead to disaster.
“We've seen cars get over the edge of that, and they usually don't go all the way down to the water,” Cooper said. “They usually get hung up on the rocks. … Occasionally, it does happen.”
Steve Fletcher, who has used the road for 35 years, knows of no one who has driven into the river, but he remembers when a boat and trailer came unhitched from a car and fell into the river.
“They got it back out,” Fletcher said, shrugging his shoulders.
The drop from the road into the river is sudden, and it can be frightening for drivers new to the road, especially when a car approaches from the opposite direction.
“There are several places there where there is really no slope. It's straight up and down,” Pearson said.
Recurring floods cause constant deterioration of the road. Signs warning “Flood Area Ahead” and “Impassable During High Water” are posted on either side of the road.
“Of course (the road is) really low, which means that just about any small flood is going to close the road,” Cooper said. “It has really affected our business a lot this year, because we have had flooding for four consecutive months, and we've had probably five or six weekends where we've canceled entertainment because of high water.”
Those who rely on the road sometimes have to drive on the Katy Trail, which is on higher ground.
“That's the only way, except to canoe or something,” Fletcher said.
Many local travelers consider Easley River Road more of a survivor than a hazard. It’s been there longer than most residents.
“I like driving on it and being that close to the water, taking the scenic route,” Cabot Long said. But he admits he is more comfortable when his is the only car on the road.
Fletcher agreed, and recalled a time when trains still ran the railroad track that is now the Katy Trail.
“I remember being on the road when the water was really high,” Fletcher said. The train was passing him on one side, and there was nothing but the Big Muddy on the other.
“It was pretty spooky,” Fletcher said.