Missouri State Parks – Show Me a Sign!

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a prime example of the high-quality outdoor experiences available free to all Missourians at state parks.

If you have visited one of Missouri’s 88 state parks and historic sites recently, you probably know that our park system – just like the national parks system – is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. That’s good timing, because in a little more than a month Missourians will vote on whether to maintain their parks or allow them to wither away in order to save $6 a year in taxes. If that sounds like a stark choice, it is.

In the past 40 years, “tax” has become something of a four-letter word in many states. Up to now, Missouri has been an exception to this trend. In 1976, Show-Me State voters approved a sales tax of one-eighth of 1 percent to support conservation. In 1984 – well into the taxes-are-evil era, Missouri voters approved a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for state parks and soil and water conservation. There’s an important difference between these two taxes. The conservation sales tax is written permanently into the state’s constitution. The parks, soil and water conservation tax must be re-approved by voters every 10 years. Otherwise, it lapses.

So far, voters have twice renewed the tax that keeps our parks open, prevents millions of tons of our topsoil from washing down to the Gulf of Mexico and keeps our lakes, streams, springs and wells flowing clean. But as the old saying goes – ironically in this case – the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes. The continuation of the parks, soil and water tax is anything but certain. Free access to the outdoors is anything but certain. If too few people understand what is at stake when they go to the polls on Nov. 8, it could sound the death knell for parks like Bennett Spring, Johnson Shut-Ins, Taum Sauk Mountain, Current River, Elephant Rocks, Ha-Ha Tonka, Onondaga, Elephant Rocks, Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock. These and other parks would have to reduce hours and services. Eventually some would be shuttered or sold off to private interests.

The same would be true of Arrow Rock, Mastodon, Nathaniel Boone Homestead, Mark Twain Birthplace and other state historic sites. In all, 88 places where Missourians go to remember their natural and cultural heritages are in peril if too many voters cast knee-jerk votes against a tax whose benefits are unknown to them. They need to know why they should want to continue paying for parks when they could reduce their tax burden by voting against it.

There are plenty of compelling economic reasons, such as the fact that a family of four pays just $24 a year for the privilege of visiting – with no entry fee – 53 state parks that preserve some of the best examples of the Show-Me State’s various types of forests, prairies, streams and lakes. Most Missourians don’t know that their parks generate more than $1 billion in tourism-related sales, much of it from out of state. They don’t know that parks support more than 14,000 jobs. That is a bargain by any measure.

Children young and old love scrambling around on rocks at Elephant Rocks State Park.

You can help ensure that the parks, soils and water tax is renewed. All you have to do is get a sign and place it in front of your house or business. The Conservation Federation of Missouri has signs at its office just west of the State Capitol Building at 728 W. Main Street in Jefferson City. They are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. You might find it more convenient to pick up a sign at one of the Missouri Farm Bureau’s county offices. Or you can 573-634-2322 and make arrangements to receive signs. While you are at it, get several extras and ask friends who value Missouri state parks to put them in front of their homes. Talk to co-workers about the tax vote and explain to them why they should want to vote “Yes” to renew the tax. Another way to help is by liking the Citizens Committee Twitter account and Facebook page and sharing their posts and tweets. Every little bit helps.

Readers of a certain age will remember the refrain from the Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Don’t wait until your parks are gone. You can ensure that we continue to have places for families to camp, fish, hike and rediscover why Henry David Thoreau said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

“Show Me”- Quest for Personal Best Bass

Ozarks – Part III

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“What goes around comes around.”

Many people believe in that statement and follow a path in life that subscribes to that way of thinking. To a certain extent, it worked for Scott Pauley and me during our recent visit to the “Show Me” State in and around Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. Pauley, who is contracted out by the state’s Division of Tourism for promoting its fishing resources (hint, hint I Love NY people), visited Niagara USA a few years ago on his way back from attending the Outdoor Writers Association of America conference in Lake Placid. He enjoyed a couple of days of fishing, including some pretty darn good bass action on the Niagara Bar, during his September stop-over. He offered to take us out with the hopes of showing off his home state. More on that a little later.

We ended Part II by checking in to Holiday Shores Resort (www.holidayshoresresort.com), located between Osage Beach and Lake Ozark. We unpacked the Tahoe and headed over to the Tropic Island, a 75-foot luxury yacht that offers 90-minute narrated cruises around the lake at a nominal fee. Captain Omer Clark runs a tight ship and the trip was very informative (www.tropicislandcruises.com). Back to our temporary home at Holiday Shores. What was cool about this place was that we had our choice of three different floors for sleeping options.

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We were up bright and early to meet up with Marjorie Beenders and Kyle Stewart for breakfast (at Stewart’s, of course, for another cinnamon roll and a pork chop breakfast) for a recap of what we had experienced so far and plans for what was yet to come . Of course, they were happy the trip was going well, but it’s what they expected. They had much pride in the area, as well as the state. They couldn’t wait to “show me” more.

Off to Lake of the Ozarks State Park (www.mostateparks.com), the state’s flag ship park at nearly 18,000 acres. Not only is it the biggest, it is also the most popular as far as visitation is concerned. I’m still amazed that there is no fee to enter any of the state parks in Missouri. A total of 12 hiking trails are available. That’s not all though. The park offers up a self-guided aquatic trail, mountain biking options and equestrian trails for those that like to ride horses. The park also has boat rentals, public ramps and docks. Fishing is always just a cast away.

Inside the park was another attraction we needed to see: Ozark Caverns. This one was entirely different than the Bridal Cave. There was no internal lighting (we had to carry lanterns on the tour) and we couldn’t take anything extra into the caverns (like wallets or cameras) due to the threat of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) spores being carried out and transported to another area. WNS is decimating bat populations throughout the continent. Since it was first discovered in Howes Cave in New York in 2006, more than a million bats have already died. It’s important to become informed on the issues.

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The tour itself was very interesting, featuring an impressive “angel shower” – one of only 14 in the world and the only one in the United States open to the public. The “angel shower” pours a never-ending stream of water out of appears to be solid rock and into a bath tub made of calcite. The source of the water, despite some intensive research, has not been discovered. For more information on the caverns, call 573-346-2500.

After we left the caverns, we took a quick tour around the park and visited the Swinging Bridges of Brumley – a historical attraction off the beaten path. We actually caught some of the locals doing some “bridge jumping” (not recommended) as we drove across the 400 foot long antiquated structure. It has stood the test of time, an early adaptation to the construction of Lake of the Ozarks back in 1931.

Not knowing how far we were from any kind of a gas station (and with our gas gauge flashing an early warning) we used Onstar to locate the nearest petrol store to avert any kind of embarrassment. Technology can be wonderful. Onstar sent the Tahoe directions immediately to the navigation system and we were filling up within five minutes. We were closer to civilization than we thought. Tip: check the gas tank!

We hit a couple of wineries during our stay, finding many of the selections to our liking. Shawnee Bluff Winery (www.shawneebluffwinery.com) in Lake Ozark offered a great view overlooking the lake with an indoor tasting room and bistro that was pleasing to the palate. There were several other wineries in the area, too – a great way to break up the trip.

While golfing didn’t fit into our itinerary this time around, the area offered up some amazing courses. If you enjoy hitting the little white ball around, you’ll want to check out this region for sure. The only golfing we did was at Sugar Creek for a quick round of miniature golf. Even those courses are elaborate, giving us the option of two different 18-hole courses. (www.sugarcreekminigolf.com). As we’ve been saying all along, fun for the whole family!

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Another side trip was to Tour L’Osage Caviar facilities, a subsidiary to Osage Catfisheries, Inc. Founded by Jim Kahrs in 1953, the caviar side of things blossomed because of the declining wild sturgeon populations in the Caspian Sea. In 1981, the family began paddlefish production – a fish found abundantly in the lake – and started its “paddlefish ranching program” in 1984.

“Aquaculture is a huge part of our business right now,” said Steve Kahrs, part of the next generation of family running the show. “We have 32 different species of fish that we offer to aquariums and research facilities around the world. You can see some of our fish in Bass Pro and the aquarium in Scottsdale, Arizona, to name but a few.”

The icing on the cake, so to speak, was the final fishing trip courtesy of Pauley. Big Ed Franko, Lake of the Ozarks fishing guide (www.bigedsguideservice.com) and co-owner of Bass & Baskets Bed and Breakfast in Lake Ozark (www.bassandbaskets.com) with his wife, Deb, also offered to help take our little group out in the morning before the sun chased us indoors. It was going to be a hot one!

bestbass5We met at Big Ed’s lakefront accommodation and boat dock. Pauley was already there. We hopped on board and within five minutes we were fishing. Laurie Calvert from Oregon City, Oregon, was the first to create excitement with hauling in a four and a half pound largemouth – her first fish ever! She was bouncing a rubber worm along the bottom. Her husband, Joe, will now have to include her on future fishing outings!!

Everyone caught fish for the few hours we were on the water. Crankbaits, swim baits and rubber worms were the three most popular enticements. It was near the end of our trip when my rod doubled over while drifting a rubber worm in 25 feet of water. Several times the fish stripped out line. Finally, after about a five minute battle, we pulled in a hefty six pound largemouth – a personal best. What a great way to end our trip, after exploring a new area and making new friends along the way. That’s what it’s all about. We can cross the Ozarks off of our bucket list, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be back for some more fun in the sun and on the water.

Be sure to check out the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau’s website at www.FunLake.com; 1-800-FUN-LAKE.

Lake of the Ozarks – Part 2

Ozarks Attractions Abound Above and Beneath the Water, and Below the Ground Too

The clean water and fun to be found at Lake of the Ozarks is for kids too.

Leaving Alhonna Resort on the shores of Lake of the Ozarks was bittersweet. We felt we had only scratched the surface and we begged for more as we pulled away in our Chevy Tahoe. The Tahoe was made for this terrain. Every driveway seemed perpendicular along the lake, dealing with the tops of the hills that now surrounded the lake after the valleys below were flooded back in 1931. We were driving the 2016 LTZ version, a perfect fit for two couples with lots of luggage. Of course, with a third seat in the back, it’s also a great vehicle for the family. The 5.3 Liter V-8 VVT with direct injection and cylinder deactivation gave us the power we needed. We could have trailered up to 8,600 pounds had we wanted to, and the next trip we just might have a pontoon boat, fully loaded!

Our first stop for the morning was a breakfast that legends are made of. Kyle Stewart (no relation) who had put together an itinerary for us, recommended a place in Lake Ozark called Stewart’s. We were told to order their famous cinnamon rolls, as big as a “catcher’s mitt.” Sandy and I ordered one to split; Joe and Laurie Calvert split one as well. No exaggeration, they were bigger than a catcher’s mitt! More like a soccer ball! And they were delicious. I also ordered their famous pork tenderloin smothered in gravy (if my doctor is reading this, I did have plenty of exercise to work it off as you will read about). It covered the plate. Not your standard dinner plates, one of the big oval ones! Hash browns and toast rounded out the monster platter. Yes, I’m a food guy and I appreciate quality.

Bridal Cave, with calcite deposits that make stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws provide magical photo moments.

As we stuffed ourselves back into the Tahoe, we realized we wouldn’t need lunch. The next part of the lake we would visit was the area in and around Camdenton. The first attraction we came to was Bridal Cave (www.bridalcave.com), one of the largest caves in the state. Missouri has a wealth of caves and caverns, hitting the 7,000 mark just recently. When it’s all said and done, the Show-Me State will be number one when it comes to overall numbers within Missouri boundaries. This cave was cool – literally and figuratively. Calcite deposits with stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and so much more mesmerized the folks on the tour. There was a connection with Western New York where they announced the “Frozen Niagara” calcite formation. More than 2,500 couples have been married in Bridal Cave or renewed their vows – another connection with the Honeymoon Capital. This is a must see for the entire family.

Geologically speaking, Missouri is littered with “karst” topography, a landscape that is filled with sinkholes, caves, natural bridges, large springs and underground streams. Many of the caves in the state can be found on private land. However, there are many on public land, too. For example, nearby Ha Ha Tonka State Park – recently named by USA Today readers as the fourth best state park in the country – has 19 caves recorded within its boundaries so far (www.mostateparks.com). It was a beautiful park and we even hiked up a castle trail that took us up to old ruins on a bluff overlooking the Niangua arm of Lake of the Ozarks, a spot we would be fishing the next morning.

There is no admission fee to enter any of the state parks in Missouri. Here we visit the Ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

When we stopped into the Visitors Center at Ha Ha Tonka, we immediately found out that there is no admission fee into any of the state parks in Missouri, thanks to a dedicated funding source (with the exception of camping sites). The public land was just that, for the public to use. What a novel idea! With 88 parks in the state, they will be celebrating a milestone next year (2017) – 100 years of the state’s natural and cultural attractions. Pick up a copy of the state’s Parks Centennial Passport. Earn a stamp by visiting each of those parks and the first 1,000 people receive a prize. Five grand prizes will be up for grabs, too. Last year, some 19 million people visited Missouri parks (www.mostateparks.com).

Next stop was our accommodations for the evening – Old Kinderhook (www.oldkinderhook.com). If you are looking for quality in the way of lodging, golf, fishing and dining options, this facility was top notch. The golf course is ranked second in the state and our fishing guide was none other than Casey Scanlon, a Bassmaster Elite Series Pro who lives on the lake. If you want to treat yourself to something special, this place was amazing – really! After checking in, we enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve had in a long, long time in the Trophy Room – fine dining at its best. Accolades came pouring out after that meal from all four of us.

Old Kinderhook offers quality lodging, golf, fishing and dining options, this facility was top notch, so was our 2016 Tahoe LTZ.

Bright and early the next morning, Scanlon picked Joe and me up at sunrise to fish the lake. This is his home waters and he won the Bassmaster Open on nearby Table Rock Lake a few years ago. Originally from Kansas City, he’s been fishing the Elite Series for five years now. In fact, he had just returned from the Elite Series event on Cayuga Lake in New York in June – just a couple hours from where I live.

BASS Elite Angler Casey Scanlon with a nice bass from Lake of the Ozarks.

“This is a great body of water to fish,” said Scanlon, as he reeled in his first fish, a largemouth, just five minutes into the trip. For this time of year, large rubber worms on a jig head was a favorite enticement. “The lake is over 90 miles long, great for largemouth and spotted bass. My favorite time is November and December when spinnerbaits and top waters work the best. April and May is also excellent when suspended jerk baits will dominate as a favorite technique. To give you an idea about how this lake fishes, it consistently takes 20 pounds or more per day to win a tournament here. There are lots of three and four pounders here and you can catch fish up to and over 10 pounds. In fact, two 10 pounders have been weighed in already this year. Fishing has really been great this season because of the added water flow coming through the system due to the heavy rains earlier.”

Almost on cue, Calvert’s rod doubled over and he fought a monster under Scanlon’s Nitro Bass Boat. When it finally came to net, it was over four pounds – Joe’s personal best. After a couple of quick pictures, we released the fish to fight another day.

Primary forage in the lake for these bass is gizzard shad and is the preferred food source. There are also threadfin shad. An underrated fish in these waters is walleye … and no one fishes for them. If someone came in here and targeted walleye, the potential is very good. Night fishing could be a way to approach old marble eye, but there may be some competition. Because the lake has turned into a recreational playground for watercraft during the middle part of the day, some bass tournaments are now being held at night to deal with the mid-day turbulence and to battle the summer heat. Heat index during the hottest part of the day would hit over 100 degrees and one day it hit 108. It didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves though.

Back to the hotel for breakfast and check-out. Again, we didn’t want to leave. Next stop on our Ozarks experience was Holiday Shores Resort (www.holidayshoresresort.com), another quality experience but entirely different from the other two accommodations we sampled. Owner Lori Piedt runs an excellent operation, featuring 26 cottages overlooking the lake at Osage Beach. Again, the facility was well equipped as a one stop shop for families to enjoy the waters of the lake or relax in the uniquely-shaped cottages. Every cottage has an outside deck with a grill and one night we cooked up burgers as the sun set. What a relaxing time.

Holiday Shores offers visitors the opportunity to rent one of its 20 covered and fully electric boat slip at a nominal price. There is a boat launch available for guests if you bring your own boat or jet ski. They also rent paddleboards, paddleboats and chill rafts. There is a swimming pool or you can take advantage of a swim dock in the lake. Our last part of the trip will wind down next week with a personal best largemouth bass! Check out the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau’s website at www.FunLake.com; 1-800-FUN-LAKE.