Missouri’s newest state park offers a primitive experience
BY JACK SUNTRUP
St. Louis Post Dispatch
JEFFERSON CITY — Outdoor enthusiasts will be able to break in the new Bryant Creek State Park in southern Missouri starting on Friday. The park covers 2,917 acres in Douglas County near the city of Ava, including mature forest, wet-weather waterfalls, caves and 1.67 miles of frontage along Bryant Creek, the main tributary of the North Fork River. Unlike one other recent addition to the state parks system — Echo Bluff State Park, which opened in 2016 and features creature comforts such as cabins and RV hookups — Bryant Creek State Park will cater to visitors seeking a more primitive experience. The park is also situated farther west than existing attractions south of St. Louis such as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, ushering tourists to an area of the state they may not otherwise visit. A ribbon-cutting will take place after an informational meeting at 11 a.m. on Friday at the north day-use area of the park. The park’s conceptual development plan says the north area will be accessible via County Road N-337D, which connects to Highway N. The state purchased the property in 2016, and officials are still developing the park; the budget for the first phase is currently $142,000. Officials didn’t include a camping area in Phase I, but visitors will be able to use two trails starting on Friday. A trail to an overlook has a natural surface while a second shorter trail will be covered in crushed gravel, said Tisha Holden, spokeswoman for Missouri State Parks. The overlook, parking and vault toilets will be open Friday. Backcountry camping along trails isn’t allowed during Phase I, Holden said. And there are no plans to construct a boat ramp or other clearing for access to Bryant Creek in the trails-focused park. “Visitors to the park will experience the magnificence of the Ozarks in the long ridgetop views across deep forest hollows, and the crystal waters of Bryant Creek,” the state’s final conceptual development plan for Bryant Creek State Park says. The state said more than 40 miles of Bryant Creek are floatable. Before cars, the creek served as a main thoroughfare for travelers heading north or south on foot or by horse or wagon, according to the state. Plans call for protecting Bryant Creek through restoration projects. “A primary focus of the park is to restore, rehabilitate and preserve the 3,000-acre forested watershed for the benefit of surface and groundwater flow into the waters of Bryant Creek,” the plan says. Highway N divides the northern and southern halves of the park. While the northern half contains mature forest, the southern half of the park includes 1,439 acres of regenerating forest and glade that officials intend to restore. The second phase of construction includes opening a day-use area in the southern portion of the park, constructing multiuse trails for hiking, biking and equestrian use, and building on the hiking-only trail network. Legislators included $600,000 in the current fiscal year budget for the second phase of Bryant Creek State Park, Holden said. She said there is no development timeline currently in place for the second phase. The third phase includes opening the camping area, paving an Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible trail, expanding the parking lot in the northern half of the park and installing trailheads. The state in recent years has aquired several new tracts for parks, at times stirring controversy among local residents. The Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District last month overturned a county judge’s ruling that would have forced the state to sell 625 acres along the Eleven Point River in Oregon County. The state plans to open the Eleven Point State Park in the area. Plaintiffs challenging the purchase of the park recently filed a motion for rehearing or alternatively asked the Missouri Supreme Court to hear the case. The state recently changed the name of Ozark Mountain State Park near Branson to Shephard of the Hills State Park, honoring Harold Bell Wright, author of “The Shepherd of the Hills,” on the 150th anniversary of his birth. That park also has yet to open. And Jay Nixon State Park in southeast Missouri, named after the former Democratic governor whose administration arranged the land purchases, has also not yet been opened to the public.