Bob Mitchell: Roaring River back in 1923

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Back about 75 years ago, the Springfield Republican (a paper on which my uncle Means Ray once served as a staff reporter), had nothing but good things to say about this area. In fact, an inaugural article about “pleasure resorts of the Ozarks” kicked off relating some of the finer points of Roaring River State Park.

That’s back in the days when the park, White, Kings and James rivers were the most important tourism attractions in this area of the state. At that time, these attractions were ahead of those in the McDonald County area, which were Ginger Blue and the cave at Bella Vista, Ark.

Roaring River

The lead article, that was to be a series, described Roaring River as “that most beautiful and delightful stream.” That was at a time when little had been done for accommodations, and just short of 100 years of Roaring River opening as a state park. The state park opened following Dr. Sayman’s generosity — or getting out from under a bad deal to which he didn’t want to devote any time after the purchase.

Driving distance from Springfield was estimated at 85 miles by that particular writer, and he figured it would take him four hours to cover the distance. It would be interesting to know his starting point in the “Queen City” and it might also be of interest to know what he was driving in those days and how much the newspaper was paying him for each mile driven.

Boating was available

The article was obviously talking about the time when an upper lake existed in the park, long before the days of the lower Bass Lake came into being as the Civilian Conservation Corps built the earthen dam that would accommodate their barracks area and later be an outlet for energies of youth and adult programs alike at Camp Smokey.

Existence of the lake that was impounded just below the spring, went out of operation for some 80 years when one of this area’s “gully washers or cloud bursts” came through the area, sending torrents of water down Roaring River Hollow and wiping out the earthen and log dam. That was when the existing stream baffles were installed to better serve the public, which was catching onto fly fishing for Rainbow Trout.

The article also touches on the feature of horseback riding along some of the trails in the park, then mentions taking an “enjoyable swim,” which indicates the people must have enjoyed cold water. In those days, the pool — which was located near the old lodge — came directly out of the spring, across the backs of trout in rearing pools separated only by a walkway from the swimming area.

Those days of trail riding can be remembered by now deceased concessionaires, who had to bid on this operation as did main park operators. Those who can be remembered as long-time operators of the trail riding business were Shade Johnson and Jim Stacy.

Paramount sport

As it is today, trout fishing was the paramount sport in the park in those days. That is, says this writer, if it might possibly be due to the eating of a delicious trout.

Next in line these days is camping, which was also available in the days just reviewed.

Going downhill

The writer was explicit about getting in the park proper by going down a steep hill. His recommendation was that brakes on the vehicle be good and the driver be “cautious at the wheel.” Before reaching the hill, he labeled the road as a “corkscrew drive” that warns travelers to be careful, less they crash into one of the trees close to the road.

A compliment for the park, for appearance and attractiveness got a big tip of the hat from this long-ago writer as being beyond his ability to “express the beauty of this place.”

The writer got his first real look at the cave-spring from Deer Leap, as it was even titled in those days, long before the observation platform and access steps were constructed. Few people today know that the site was also known by some people as “Lovers Leap” — a title that didn’t last long.

Bungalows available

This guy talked about bungalows being available in those days, but he doesn’t say if they were made available to him on a complimentary basis. Many writers in early times — and some still today — expected the concessionaires to provide them food and lodging in return for a few kind words in their publications.

There were quite a few of these types of writers in the 1960s and 1970s who didn’t go into nearly the detail of Roaring River’s offerings as did this individual. One might think he hadn’t been out of a metropolitan area enough to really enjoy life.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat, and a 2017 inductee into Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.