COLUMBIA — Envision yourself as a settler in the mid-1800s, looking for a new place to prosper and call home. Imagine under what elements and circumstances you would need to survive.
Meredith Donaldson, a park aide and member of the Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, asked this of hikers as they began their historical, 1.5-mile walk though the ruins of the Rock Bridge Mills industrial area.
The Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park sponsored the "Water, Whisky and Hogs" hike Sunday in an aim to educate nature lovers and history buffs on what used to be in the now heavily forested area.
“The Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and the state park would like people to come out and use the park,” Donaldson said. “And one of the motivations to use the park, is to understand what’s here, to look for things, to enjoy — to question and to explore.”
After hikers at the south Columbia park were asked what they needed to survive, Donaldson began the tour from the park floor up, rebuilding the picture of the lost community.
“We have to put all the information together,” she said.
Along the worn trails lie markers of previous inhabitants. Hikers could marvel at ruins such as a leftover cistern, which was used to hold water that was pumped up to the McAlester mansion. The mansion sat atop a hill overlooking the stream that ran through the community.
Other ruins included wagon imprints set in stone, the concrete remains of a building and sink holes used as early garbage disposals for pig carcasses.
According to Donaldson, Rock Bridge Mills was a "perfect little industry." The gristmill provided grain for the Heibel distillery, which gave mash to the pigs, which supplied the community with food.
“It was a busy industrial site at one time,” Donaldson said. “And it has been reclaimed by nature.”
Although the turnout for the event — seven people — was small, Donaldson felt it was still a success and hopes to continue the hike once a month.
“With the predictions of it being 7 degrees, I was pleased to see (them) here,” Donaldson said. “We don’t usually have large numbers, but personally I think this was the perfect size. We would love to see a hearty number out when we offer programs, but it is sort of hard when I get 35 people to have as intimate a hike as we did.”