Link in popular Missouri hiking trail to be rebuilt

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 | 5:58 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — With an opening date in sight for Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, volunteers are set to rebuild the destroyed section of a popular hiking trail.

Part of the Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail was wiped out in a reservoir collapse in December 2005 that also injured a family of five and did serious damage to much of the state park outside of Lesterville.

The reservoir breach obliterated a mile of trail that led to the shut-ins themselves, but effectively closed 13 miles.

As many as 20 miles of the Ozark Trail meander through the state park, composing the Taum Sauk section that is arguably the state's most popular hiking and backpacking trail, Ozark Trail Association founder and former President John Roth said.

Starting Jan. 3, volunteers organized by the trail association will 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 N.

He said volunteers were willing to rebuild before, but reconstruction of the park made it impractical. Now that the park is set to reopen next year, he said the time was right to rebuild Missouri's beloved trail.

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. The trail will rejoin the original route further downstream.

The loop trail, intended for day use, will connect a new trail head on Missouri 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. The Department of Natural Resources will provide interpretation.

Roth said eight trail-building events are scheduled for weekends in January and February, weather permitting. Volunteers will be treated to a warming tent, a fire pit, and barbecue, a kind of post-event tailgate party.

Two "mega" trail-building events on April 4 and May 2 will offer free camping at Johnson's Shut-Ins, even before the park opens, as well as free lunch and live bluegrass music. Anyone interested in helping should sign up on the Ozark Trail Association's Web site, Space is limited.

Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Sue Holst said the private effort to rebuild the trail was coordinated with the state agency and timed to coincide with the park's reopening.

She said the redeveloped Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park will be a "quality experience" that people will appreciate, but with trees gone, a different landscape than what it had been.

Holst said the new park will feature more picnic shelters, a rebuilt board walk, more green space between campgrounds, and more access points to the river.

Portions of Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park have been open for limited use during the last three summers.

The Ozark Trail is a scenic and varied route through the Missouri Ozarks, stretching from just outside St. Louis to the Arkansas border.

It eventually connects to the Ozark Highlands Trail , creating a 700-mile through-trail. Almost 550 miles of trail have been built, with 350 miles in Missouri.

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