Bob Mitchell: Spring’s not far away

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

If you are up early enough on March 1 and chose to roll out of the sack, you could attend the 90th opening of Roaring River State Park.

The annual opening, considered by many in this area to be the unofficial arrival of the first of spring, starts with the opening gunshot, fired from the central location in the Rainbow Trout stream, followed immediately by the hatchery siren.

While spectators will undoubtedly outnumber anglers considerably, the weekday starts usually attract only the numbers permitted by weather conditions. Here again, turning to the Almanac, there isn’t much good news in the weather forecast, which calls for March 1-3 to present “blustery” conditions for the Midwest, more specifically, Kansas and Oklahoma, from whence cometh our weather.

Bonfires provided

Weather conditions are not a big step to overcome for the most ardent of anglers. Most are accustomed to making intermediate trips to bonfires, which are provided by park’s personnel, to either warm themselves or the thaw the ice from the fly rod guides or their reels.

Faced by any inclement weather conditions, those lined along the stream, arriving there early to ensure a favorite spot, will consume gallons of hot coffee served by Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce volunteers in their annual hospitality effort for park visitors.

Eagles depart

Those who are in the right place, at the right time, might be fortunate enough to see a winter-resident Bald Eagle make its departure from the park. The arrival of this crowd on opening morning, has usually meant the departure of the majestic birds from the park.

It’s in the lower area of the park, in large trees on the far side of the stream, that Eagles have made their winter home, often feasting on rainbow trout, either from the stream or those dead fish that are provided by hatchery personnel. The fly-over, in an upstream direction for those around the Dry Hollow area of the stream, isn’t an annual affair, but when it happens there are gasps of amazement noticed by all those in the area.

Affable hosts

The well-recognized hosts for the park opening are Jim and Carman Rogers, who are also concessionaires at Bennett Spring park near Lebanon. Many of the opening-morning spectators will arrive down the steep Highway 112 hill hours after the morning opening, taking their turn in line at the Convention Center for a hearty breakfast.

Overnight facilities have been filled for months in advance, as have accommodations in the area.

Park’s top rank

Five years ago, former Gov. Jay Nixon, who during his term was a frequent visitor to the park as an active fisherman, proclaimed March 1 as Rainbow Trout Fishing Day and at the same time ranked Roaring River as the favorite state park. Statistics favored Roaring River with 73,344 out of 150,000 votes cast in a survey, for a 46-percentile ranking. That was slightly higher than Bennett (closer to metropolitan areas), a park that was edged out at 44 percent, standing in second place.

In addition to this usual standing, Roaring River has in the past been the top attraction in the three-park system in opening angler numbers, and at the October ending of the season, in visitor numbers.

Top park booster

With all the acclaim received over the years at Roaring River, there has never been a more vocal friend of the park than the late Missouri Secretary of State James C. Kirkpatrick. The affable Irishman was a longtime opening-day visitor. Even when he stepped aside for a visiting governor at the park’s opening signal, he would be on hand, frequently encouraging a governor of his political thinking to accompanying him.

A favorite comment came from him during one of his early visits to the park and Cassville, when he rated Roaring River number one in the state during a TV interview. When asked why he would make such a statement, as a state official, he said, “because it is true, and these people ask me!”

As long as his health permitted, he stayed “on go” for a trip to Roaring River for fishing or for many other occasions.

Sayman’s gift

So, the entire state can thank St. Louis soap manufacturer Dr. Thomas Sayman for his gift of the park to the state.

Ironically, in the mid-1950s while living in St. Louis, a family friend, Maud Reynolds, one-time owner of the Willis Insurance building on the square, asked me to drive her to near Lindall and Grand, to visit a friend. Upon arriving, I learned it was the home of Mrs. Sayman.

Her first remarks, when learning I was from Cassville, was to enquire about Roaring River and if people were enjoying the facility. She also wanted to know of the existence of such facilities as the earthen dam that formed the original upper lake. She was disappointed to learn it had washed out in a flood.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.