I was quite amazed when perusing the spring edition of Missouri Resources to learn Arrow Rock Tavern was the first property purchased by the state; a rest stop built in 1834 for settlers headed west. In 1916, Missouri was one of the first states to create a special park fund used to buy land. By 1928 the state had acquired 40,000 acres creating 14 state parks, mostly in the Ozarks. Only four states had obtained more land at this point in time. Funds initially came from game and fishing fees, and federal funds. As automobiles and better highways improved mobility, park attendance grew. In 1974 the Department of Natural Resources was formed with Missouri State Parks under its umbrella. In 1981 federal aid ended. Fortunately citizen action led to voter approval of a one-tenth-cent sales tax to be split between state parks and soil and water conservation. To date, every ten years a large majority approves the tax renewal, now poised for a vote again this fall.
Per Missouri Resources, “state parks offer prairies, battlefields, covered bridges, ancient Indian villages, forested hills and valleys with caves and springs, streams with trout, lakes with bass and the homes and workplaces of honored artists, pioneers, soldiers and statesmen.” Given our state was quick to preserve land for the public good, we were major recipients of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Thousands of young men worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps building infrastructure in our park systems; as major recipients, four thousand in Missouri alone. Wonderful stone and timber pavilions, along with rock walls and steps along pathways, added beauty and functionality to our parks. With over 18 million visitors each year, we have much to offer – 53 state parks, 35 historic sites, and over 1000 conservation areas. Contrary to most states, entry to our parks is free.
In 2013, American Trails, a national, nonprofit organization, named Missouri the “Best Trails State”. We have almost 1,000 miles of managed trails and more than 500 miles of National Recreation Trails; diverse trails we can walk, hike or bicycle throughout our state park system; and the Katy Trail, the longest developed rail-to-trail in the nation. We also have the beautiful Ozark National Scenic Waterway flowing through the lower part of our state. If you want to learn more about nature offerings in Missouri, call for free subscriptions to Missouri Resources through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Missouri Conservationist through Missouri Department of Conservation. Missouri is a beautiful state – get out there and enjoy it!