Roaring River concessions to be open year-round

Along with the welcome news that storm sirens are scheduled for installation in the campgrounds and near the lodge, attendees at Roaring River State Park’s annual public meeting on June 6 learned that concessions at the park will be open year-round, including the park store, the restaurant and lodging.

The concessions are now operated by ExploreUS, a national company that submitted the winning bid after previous concessionaires, Jim and Carmen Rogers, declined to apply for a new contract. Concessionaire David Waugh said Roaring River State Park is the seventh state park in the company’s line-up, one they are branding as “Roaring River Adventures, LLC.”

According to the website of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), ExplorUS is headquartered outside Kansas City, and manages concessions at a total of nearly 70 sites in 17 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including Montauk State Park in Missouri.

Business owners, Shannon Beamer, of Zone 4 Mini Golf & More, and Tammy Hamm, of Shadow Bluff Retreat, expressed concern that ExploreUS seemed indifferent to working with the community.

“This park, this river, means so much to me, personally,” Beamer said, holding back tears. “I uprooted and moved here because of Roaring River, and I don’t feel like I’m getting the love back.”

David Waugh responded with emotion of his own.

“This park – I met my wife here – it’s a very special part of me, too,” he said. “When I started this job 20 years ago, I took my cup of coffee outside at 6 a.m. and saw the mist rising from the river, and I felt the presence…” Waugh’s left the sentence unfinished, but his words left no doubt about his concern for the best interests of Roaring River State Park.

“Would it be appropriate for local business owners to sit down with the concessionaires at Roaring River State Park to discuss ideas for projects that are good for tourism and for families?” Beamer asked.

Without offering a direct answer, Waugh indicated that ExplorUS, after taking over operations on Jan. 1 is still in the discovery phase, but is looking at partnering with the state on cabin improvements and other projects.

“We have wi-fi in all of the cabins, now,” Waugh said. “We’re getting there.”

Waugh said that staffing in the park is an ongoing challenge.

“We’re shorthanded at the restaurant, to the point that we’ve had to close occasionally during the afternoons,” he said.

Waugh said, for him, a full staff is 40 employees, but it’s hard for him to find people to fill those positions.

“I draw employees not only from Cassville, but from as far away as Shell Knob and Aurora, too,” he said.

Employees must be at least 16 years old to work in concessions, Waugh said, adding that such jobs are a good fit for high school and college students who are willing to work.

According to Waugh, retaining employees after they’re hired on has been equally challenging. Based on employment records for the past 20 years, during that time period, the concessionaire has employed 758 people, Waugh said.

With plans for concessions to stay open year-round, beginning this fall, the staffing challenge may be compounded.

“Since staying open year-round is something different for us, here at Roaring River, we’ll experiment, first, with staying open for certain days throughout the winter,” Waugh said.

Meanwhile, Waugh asks for the community’s patience as he works with ExplorUS to educate them about Roaring River and to teach them to love the park as much as he does.

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