COLUMBIA — While most teenagers were still sleeping soundly in the early morning of Saturday, Aug. 29, Zach Harrison grabbed a shovel and started digging.
To complete his Eagle Scout project, Harrison, 16, organized a two-day service event for Troop 6 at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. Assisting park maintenance worker Brian Meyer, members of Troop 6 used shovels and a Pulaski axe, a common firefighting tool, to reroute a portion of the two-mile long Deer Run Trail.
“It was a lot of digging and tamping down the surface,” Harrison said. “We worked from 8 'til 2 on Saturday and Sunday. But it was fun having my friends to work with me.”
The troop has completed a half mile of the trail reroute. Park Superintendent Jim Gast hopes to finish the entire one-mile reroute by fall. Responding to community concerns of eroding soil and the close vicinity of houses on the western boundary of the park, park staff has been working since spring to reroute the trail.
The concerns — among other topics —will be discussed in a public informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Gilbert Picnic Shelter at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. The annual meeting, hosted by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, gives the public an opportunity to offer input on the operations of the park, Gast said.
As far as the Deer Run Trail, Gast said, “We have five phases of construction, so the original trail can stay open. We’ve finished phases one and two and opened up the trail there. Now people are using the new part, and we’re closing off the old part.”
In addition to the trail reroute, Gast plans to open the floor for discussion on Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, Katy Trail State Park, Jewell Cemetery and Clark’s Hill/Norton State Historic Site.
Gast will also explain the decision not to have a deer hunt this year in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. Due to the large number of deer in years past, the park was given permission by the Missouri Department of Conservation to allow certain applicants to hunt in the park.
Although hunting is illegal in state parks, the Missouri Department of Conservation makes an exception when the deer population becomes disruptive. The last time Rock Bridge Memorial State Park had a hunt in 2006, interested hunters entered a lottery system to hunt in certain areas. On that day, the park closed to the public.
To determine whether the park qualifies for a hunt, park staff must show that there are more than 25 deer per square mile in the park. To do this, there must be four inches of snow on the ground in order to conduct a helicopter count. Since there wasn't four inches of snow this past year, park staff was unable to do the count. Regardless, the deer don’t seem to be causing any issues this year, Gast said.
With park attendance up since 2008, Gast anticipates more community response at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I don’t know if it’s the economy and people are staying close to home or getting out more, but park attendance is up,” Gast said. “If people have concerns about any of our four parks we will listen."