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story.lead_photo.caption PHOTO SUBMITTED Built in 1893, Alley Spring Mill began operating 124 years ago with a steel turbine from power of the daily flow of 81 million gallons of water (Missouri's seventh largest spring). By 1903, the mill was the center of a small village with a blacksmith, store and school with an enrollment of 42 students.

Ten area youth hiked, viewed and experienced, some of the most beautiful scenic wilderness places Missouri has to offer, plus toured Missouri's elk restoration project site, when they attended the Young Outdoorsmen United two-day field trip in Carter and Shannon counties. The excursion was part of the organization's monthly events and activities.

Day one began with a small procession departing from Anderson at 8 a.m. and heading towards Eminence (250 miles east), where historic Alley Spring mill sets along the Jack's Fork River. Alley Spring is the seventh largest spring in Missouri, with a daily flow of 81 million gallons. The spring conduit is known to extend at least 3,000 feet long and reaches a minimum of 155 feet below the surface. The mill, which is normally closed for winterizing, was opened as part of a private tour by National Park Service ranger Josh Chilton. He showed the kids how the equipment was used for grinding grains inside the famous "red" mill general store and told the history of the village.

Next stop was in the town of Eminence, proclaimed as the "Elk Capital of Missouri," due to its close proximity to Peck Ranch research center, where the Missouri Department of Conservation began its elk restoration program in 2011. A life-size bronze elk statue marks an intersection on Main Street and presents photo opportunities galore for those wishing to stop. The youth were no exception and took advantage to smile for many photos.

Impressed by its size, Adelynn Tisdale quipped, "This elk statue is big, a lot bigger than me. Is this what they are really like?"

Stop number three was Big Spring in Van Buren, deemed as the biggest flowing spring in the United States. It produces an astonishing 287 million gallons daily. The gush of water thrusting out could be heard as the group approached the trail leading to where the volume of water exits a short solid bluff dotted with a couple of "cave-like" openings. Ozark National Scenic River-ways law enforcement officer Josh Gibbs met with the youngsters and reviewed his daily responsibilities as a National Park Service ranger on the Current River. They soon learned his job involves a lot of cool stuff but is not an easy task, and on occasion could be dangerous.

The remainder of the evening was spent browsing in the newly opened business on Van Buren's Main Street. The Current River Trading Post provided a variety of treasures, new and unusual items, and things from a century ago during the area's booming logging and lumber era. Both the kids and adults found things they could not resist to inspect on every shelf.

Another delightful stop on Main Street was Smalley's Convenience Store and Deli. As soon as the group entered, it was immediately decided this was the place for dinner. The group ordered from the huge selection of items, such as tasty BBQ, fresh pizza, delicious fried chicken, a variety of side dishes, cooked-to-order hamburgers, plus custom-sliced deli sandwiches. Not only was everyone satisfied, they were impressed with the value and pricing.

After getting a full belly, the travelers had no regrets to retire, as an early departure was planned for the day's final leg of the adventure. Accommodations to host the band of outdoor seekers were reserved in advance at the newly renovated Current River Inn (formerly Hawthorne Motel). The inn was clean, comfortable and had outstanding rates. No one had trouble going to sleep, even the kids retired semi-early, as a 6:15 a.m. departure was mandatory. Of course, it was unanimously voted to meet across the street at Smalley's for coffee and breakfast!

Day two began before dawn, where the small carpool of Young Outdoorsmen United met with Missouri Department of Conservation's Peck Ranch resident elk research biologist David Hensenbeck, and intern biologist Emma Kring, at a pre-determined location on the 36 square-mile research center. The purpose of the early morning meeting had high hopes of locating some of the free-ranging elk herd. Following their lead, as the sun lifted shadows off the hillsides and bottomland grassy fields, a small cluster of the restoration project elk was spotted less than 100 yards away.

"I see them, I see them ... do you see them?" cried out Finn O'Brien, age 6. The elk were all cows, along with a calf, and were extremely impressive to view in the soft orange-ish daylight. Not bothered by the small caravan of vehicles, the elk causally walked to the ridge top, allowing all of the spectator's ample time to soak in their majestic beauty.

The kids and parents drove forward less than a half mile, where everyone exited their vehicles and met along the gravel road for a demonstration of telemetry equipment used to locate and gather research information.

"Is that stuff hard to use? I can hear it beeping. What does that mean?" asked 11-year-old Sara Newhard.

It was explained that the radio collars and associated equipment are valuable tools to locate the always moving animals. The group learned how elk monitoring is used to gain knowledge about feeding habits, predation and poaching. They also found the research team attaches VIP (vaginal implanted) transmitters to gather birthing data. Many hands were raised by the young audience asking questions. David and Emma did an outstanding job sharing their wealth of knowledge they have gained since the elk were first transported in 2011 to Peck Ranch from a wild elk population in Kentucky.

Elk were found throughout Missouri prior to European settlement. Historical accounts indicate elk likely disappeared from the state by 1865. Prompted by citizen requests, the Department conducted an elk reintroduction feasibility study in 2000 and found that elk restoration in Missouri was biologically feasible in portions of the Ozarks. Current data indicates the herd has grown to approximately 180 animals. Once the herd reaches 200, MDC staff will start looking at having a limited elk hunt.

"If the herd continues to reproduce in a satisfactory fashion, then we can start looking at having our first hunting season within the next couple of years," Hasenbeck stated; but many other factors can influence the final decision.

After departure, the next scheduled stop was eight miles north at Rocky Falls. The falls, located on Rocky Creek, were created as molten rock deep within the earth flowed upwards onto the earth's surface and created a descending rock formation, allowing the creek to stay within whatever cracks it finds. Few places in the Ozarks provide a glimpse of earth's turbulent past as well as Rocky Falls.

The morning brisk temps did not detour any enthusiasm to climb the large rocky terrain.

Twelve-year-old Sam Brewer shouted, "I made it to the top! I'm king of the mountain."

Next on the agenda was to continue north two miles to another spectacular setting, surrounded by the molten rock of a "shut in" canyon made by Rocky Creek called Klepzig Mill. The old mill, still on-site, constructed in 1928 by Walter Klepzig, featured a turbine where he ground corn for his neighbors. He also sawed logs into boards for his house and outbuilding. On occasion, Klepzig used boards for coffins. This site remains on the Ozark National Scenic Riverways as a lasting testament to the hardships of everyday life in the Ozarks in a time not so long ago.

When informed about the difficulty of surviving in the era, 12-year-old Rebekeh Lilly staunchly said, "Not for me, I'd move!''

Stop number four was a 17-mile-advance northwest on a paved state highway to another spring surrounded by Ozark National Scenic Riverways park property called Blue Spring. The spring itself is owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation. After exiting the pavement for an additional two-mile jaunt to the spring's one-quarter mile trailhead, a half dozen dashing elk passed in front of the motorcade, with a single cow elk trailing in a less-hurried manner, and viewed by everyone.

Another added surprise was a solo immature bald eagle patiently perched at the point where water of Blue Spring fades into the Current River. Undisturbed, the independent eagle seemed to guard the spring's entrance less than 35 yards across the flowing spring waters. Another dozen mature eagles, also silently perched in the overhanging trees 100 yards downstream as if awestruck by their beautiful surroundings too.

Without a doubt, Blue Spring is stunning and calmly flows at a rate of 93 million gallons. An overhanging observation deck allows visitors to stand directly just two-feet above the discharge area and gaze into the mystic depths of its astonishing clear water. It is hard to find a single ripple in the direct area where the water evacuates and reaches depths of over 310 feet.

If submerged, the Statue of Liberty would be completely covered. Combined with depth, sunlight and minerals, the spring produces a vivid spectrum of blue. Native Indians called it "Spring of the Summer Sky."

The spring's beauty inspired 15-year-old attendee, Andrew Moritz to softly comment, "I am amazed, just simply amazed!"

After completing the checklist of sightseeing points-of-interests, the troupe of Young Outdoorsmen United ventured back to Eminence for a lunchtime meal, as all were tired and hungry. Ruby's on Main Street offered a place to sit down and enjoy the restaurant's array of a Sunday all-you-can-eat home-style buffet.

The meal conversation naturally drifted to all the places visited. When the youngsters were asked of their favorite place or favorite thing on the trip, they replied as expected, saying they couldn't make up their mind. But after a second time around with the same question, it was revealed that seeing the elk at Peck Ranch topped the list.

Of course, some of them shared "exaggerated" tales of seeing 100-pound monster fish in the depths of the springs, legendary Huck Finn cave exploring, sliding down a rocky waterfall on the frozen ice, and swiftly being swooped up by a flock of giant raptors.

The trip no doubt left many memories that will be shared for numerous years ahead. Addison Nicholas, 7, reminisced about the story the park interpreter at Alley Spring shared with the boys and girls of how a traveling circus came on a hot summer day. And just outside the village, the elephant broke away from the handlers and headed directly into the huge spring to cool down.

"What a sight to see," said young Addie. "I would have loved to see that, I would remember that for a long time." Yup Addie, everyone will remember the trip for a long time!


Young Outdoorsmen United is an independent non-profit organization located in McDonald County. The organization's goal is to "Build opportunities for youth and families to enjoy the outdoors through hunting, fishing, shooting and other related activities each and every month." For additional information, visit or call 417-439-8594.

Community on 02/08/2018

Print Headline: Youth See Elk, Eagles, Springs And A Waterfall

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