Fish-cleaning station hot topic at Roaring River meeting

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

In last year, park added WiFi, upgraded campsites, reclaimed views

Roaring River State Park officials have announced a cornucopia of accomplishments made at the park over the last year, and that plans are in the works to build a new fish-cleaning station for anglers.

Representatives of Missouri State Parks, the Missouri Department of Conservation, Roaring River State Park Concessions and Park Rangers addressed about 30 people gathered for the park’s annual meeting on Aug. 12.

The fish-cleaning station was the hot topic of the evening, with Roaring River State Park Manager Joel Topham announcing the park intends to build a new station in Zone 3, fit with a grinder that would turn fish remains into a slurry that would go through the park’s wastewater system.

The old fish-cleaning station was torn down in May, partially due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) social distancing protocols being ignored, but also because the boards under the tubs that held remains had rotted and were unsafe.

“We know the fish-cleaning station is important — we understand that,” Topham said. “But, a project like this is not something that we planned for, and it’s not something we had budgeted for. We plan to install a grinder fish-cleaning station, similar to what is at Montauk State Park, in Campground 3 at the end of our sewer system line to prevent back-gassing.”

Topham said the old station cost about $6,000 per month to maintain, which included daily cleaning, composting, gas costs for moving fish remains, etc. A grinder system, he said, would cost about half that amount.

“We want to make sure we do it right, so we are asking for your patience and grace as we continue to formulate a plan,” he said. “Roaring River has had times with a fish-cleaning station and without a fish-cleaning station. We will get one sooner or later.”

Topham also urged anglers who clean fish at the river to throw remains in the deepest parts of the river and refrain from leaving them on the banks or putting them in trash cans.

“We have blackhead vultures here, and when remains are put in the trash, it attracts the vultures,” he said.

One individual at the meeting proposed putting up a donation bin in the Park Store where people buy tags, allowing patrons to help fund a new fish-cleaning station.

Topham said while plans are still in the design phase, he projects a new station would cost at least $63,000-$65,000.

Topham also listed accomplishments by park staff over the last year, including:

• Five full room renovations at Emory Melton Inn, funded by the state’s general fund, that includes paint and new furniture

• New furniture throughout the Inn

• Completed the CCC stone project near cabins 1-3 and 4-9, and by the CCC Lodge

• Regraded the slope to the river near the stone project

• Added WiFi access throughout the park

• 16 campsites in Campground 1 upgraded to 50-amp service

• Reopened of Eagle’s Nest Trail after five years of closure

• Repaired the CCC bridge

• Repaired the Inn’s Deer Leap room, which had been sinking

• Cleaned the park’s water tower

• Reclaimed the river view from Emory Melton Inn

• Added drainage and regrading in certain campgrounds for flood control

• Installed new roof on old school house in Campground 1

• Reclaimed river view from cabins 4-9

• Added an ADA bathroom at Camp Smokey

• Painted the kitchen and floor in the Camp Smokey kitchen, and added an ADA ramp

• Set boundaries for a pollinator area in Campground 3 for wildlife like butterflies and bees

• Filled potholes throughout the park

• Cabins 12-20 and 21-28 painted

• 7 memorial benches added and installation of memorial picnic tables started

• In cooperation with MoDOT, reclaimed view of the river from the one-way road from the Hatchery

• New fence rail added for cabins 4-9

• 3 new trash cans installed in Zone 2

• Added the People’s Bench, which contains names of people who fire the Opening Day gun

• At Big Sugar Creek State Park, added a gate to stop people from driving to the river access but allowing them to go around for access to kayak and swim

In addition, Topham said the park had five floods last year, all between 5-7 feet, and had to take time for cleanup and repairs after each event.

Going forward, the fish-cleaning station is on the list, as well as upgrading 13 more campsites to 50-amp service, upgrading more Inn rooms, considering a splash pad or other water feature if the pool remains closed due to COVID-19, planting trees in Campground 3 for erosion and beautification, and planting wildflowers in the pollinator area.

Topham did say camping fees will go up $1 next year to pay for the WiFi addition. This determination was made through a survey sent to frequent campers, who overwhelmingly said they would rather pay an extra $1 than to have a use fee.

Missouri State Parks is also responsible for natural resource stewardship of the park’s 4,294 acres. Accomplishments in that realm included:

• Joint burn in Pine Hollow of 1,308 acres

• 100 labor hours of species management

• Removal of encroaching cedars in the glades

• 32 individuals doing 2,400 hours of stewardship work

There are upcoming plans for two more burns in Big Sugar Creek and three in Roaring River.

The Nature Center has reopened with weekend hours of 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and weekday hours vary.

All programs and hikes adhere to social distancing protocols, with a maximum number of participants in each program.

Memorial benches, Topham said, are now at max capacity with 80. The park is now adding memorial picnic tables in the day use area, which cost $600 for a 10-year bench and $1,500 for a lifetime bench.

Looking ahead, Topham said he hopes things begin to get more back to normal.

“We are not sure what the future holds,” he said. “We are still planning all our normal events for 2021, and we are hopeful they all happen according to planned. We still work to bring people the best park experience we can, and we want everyone to make great memories while social distancing and staying safe.”

Mike Sutherland, Missouri State Parks director, gave kudos to Topham and his team, saying the list of accomplishments was impressive.

“When I got here, Joel showed me his list of accomplishments he wanted to read,” Sutherland said. “He gave me the first page, and I said that was good. Then he gave me the second page, and I said that was a lot. And by the third page, I was amazed.

“All our facilities have great teams, but the list of accomplishments here is about the longest I’ve seen.”

Sutherland said Missouri State Parks is continuing its phased reopening approach while still fulfilling its mission of creating a safe environment, positive service, stewardship and resource work.

He said in light of the pandemic, attendance at the parks is up. Roaring River saw a 15 percent increase in activity in June compared to June 2019, which Sutherland said is an opportunity.

“There are a lot of new people discovering the outdoors,” he said. “We are trying to be careful and provide the best experience for them.”

Roaring River Hatchery

Paul Spurgeon, manager of the Roaring River Hatchery, which is managed by the MDC, said the construction project at the facility, which is a year behind its scheduled completion date, is starting to wrap up.

“High rainfall in the spring kept pushing us back,” he said. “But, crews are now pumping out 53 cfs from the spring, which is what it is putting out, and that’s not their max amount. Concrete [was poured Thursday], and if all goes well, we will have water in our 42-inch pipe in the next two weeks and can divert and finish work after that.”

Spurgeon said he hopes the hatchery will begin to produce fish again this fall or early winter.

“With the Hatchery closed, not a day goes by someone doesn’t ask me about it or complain about it,” he said. “We’ve had calls from all over the U.S. from people who miss it. It really drove home to us how important the Hatchery is to Roaring River.”

Spurgeon said he is also excited for Kids’ Fishing Day in 2021, which will be the 40th anniversary of the event.

Park Ranger

Steve Jabben, Roaring River State Park Ranger, said this past year has brought on numerous challenges he has not faced before.

Most of his work has been in the education realm, especially with so many new visitors to the park.

“It has been an interesting and challenging year,” he said. “We have had a lot more guests and a lot of new people that typically do not know the rules and regulations. So, complaints have been up.

“It has been a lot of education on our part this year, because we don’t want people to come down, having not planned to get a tag or have the wrong bait, to see the Park Ranger walking up with his ticket book. I can’t stress how much education we’ve done this year.”

Jabben said for complaints about bait use or other similar infractions, people may always call the Operation Game Theft hotline, call the Park Office, or stop a staff member and report the incident. Ultimately, Jabben said the experience is a positive.

“We’ve had tons of new visitors, and that’s good,” he said. “We want to them to come down and learn about the park. Our county and cities can also take advantage of that, because all these new people are going through our communities spending tourism money.”

Question and answer session

A Q&A session was held at the meeting following each department’s presentations, and most of the questions revolved around camping.

One person asked if the reservation system would remain in place. Officials said during the offseason, camping will return to whatever method was in place last year, be it reservation or first-come, first served.

Looking into the normal 2021 season, Sutherland said Missouri State Parks is hoping to develop a better reservation system, as it helps staff from a camping management perspective. He said if the park sticks with a full reservation system, it hopes to develop one easier to use and that would allow for a 1-hour notice instead of requiring a 24-hour notice.

“We want convenience and predictability, and we haven’t found the right balance of that quite yet,” he said.

A final comment came from a woman and park volunteer with a disability, who lamented there is no ADA bathroom in the upper end of the park, forcing her to travel all the way from the Hatchery to the swimming hole to use the bathroom.

Sutherland said officials would look into the possibility of adding an ADA bathroom somewhere in the CCC Lodge or Hatchery area of the park.

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