Connecting communities and forging new relationships

A new section of the Ozark Trail is currently under construction in Ozark National Scenic Riverways that will allow hikers to explore more of the scenic backcountry landscape of Shannon County.

The trail will provide new hiking options for visitors along the upper Current River and will also offer an opportunity for a multi-day hiking/floating adventure between Round Spring and Powder Mill.

Visitors can hike north on the Ozark Trail from Owls Bend/Powder Mill to the Laxton Hollow Trail, reaching the Himont Trailhead in the Roger Pryor Backcountry. From there trail users can continue on the Brushy Creek Trail to the Round Spring Campground along this new section.  

Hikers will enjoy unique karst features and scenic overlooks along the Current River as they hike through the remote Roger Pryor Backcountry and enter Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Upon reaching Round Spring, hikers can become paddlers and return to Owls Bend by floating down the Current River to their original starting point.

This new trail will also connect to Echo Bluff State Park and continue on to Current River State Park. The entire trail connecting Roger Pryor Backcountry, Round Spring, Echo Bluff State Park, and Current River State Park has been designated as the Current River Trail. The Round Spring Section will be completed in 2017 and connected to the Echo Bluff trail in 2018.

The Current River Trail was first proposed nine years ago in June 2008 by John Roth of the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) and Greg Iffrig of the L-A-D Foundation. Volunteers from the OTA began working on the 5.5-mile section located in the Roger Pryor Backcountry in 2010 shortly after the initial approval of the proposed trail.  

During this time the National Park Service began the lengthy regulatory review and approval through processes set forth in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The approval for the final 5.5-mile section within the park from Round Spring to the park boundary at Cabin Hollow was finally given in 2016.

On Dec. 10, 2016, a group of 30 OTA volunteers gathered at Group Campsite Nine at Round Spring and walked across the pedestrian bridge spanning the Current River to make the first cut on this final section, bringing the nine-year-old dream to fruition.

The goal of everyone involved is to complete the Round Spring section in 2017. Several small trail building events are planned this year along with several “OTA Mega Events.” The small events usually include 10 to 20 volunteers working on weekends. Volunteers are able to complete 200 to 400 yards of new trail during the small weekend events.

The OTA Mega Events can attract 100 to 200 volunteers and yield close to one mile of new trail. Mega Events are a wonderful trail celebration with free camping, delicious outdoor meals, and entertainment for volunteers.

There are many positive outcomes from trail building activities for those involved. Working together on a difficult project often brings people closer and encourages long-lasting and meaningful relationships.

Volunteers from major metropolitan areas work alongside rural residents from the local community to accomplish a shared mission. Personal barriers soon disappear as camaraderie grows. It is impossible to build a rock wall, construct a switchback, or chisel rock steps without developing an appreciation for the people working with you.  

Volunteers traveling to Shannon County to help with trail construction also benefit the community by participating in local events. Recently, 22 OTA volunteers attended a chili supper and pie auction benefiting the Timber Volunteer Fire Department. Local residents and volunteers from St. Louis, Springfield, and Columbia had a great time interacting and driving the pie auction bids higher.

At the end of the evening over $2,000 was raised for the community fire department. The most expensive pie was a chocolate turtle cheesecake baked by a Timber resident and purchased by the OTA president. This was a wonderful example of how everyone benefits from building trails, connecting communities and developing lifelong friendships.

You can preview the Current River Trail by starting at the Round Spring picnic area. Simply follow the paved trail along the spring branch and up the hill turning left toward the group campground area. Continue through the group campground to the pedestrian footbridge crossing the Current River.

At the north end of the footbridge you will see the new trail under construction, directly across Highway 19 from Carr’s Canoe Rental. Once on the new trail you will encounter two switchbacks and rock steps within the first half mile. Looking south across the Current River you will see the middle landing in the group campground. Hikers are welcome to continue to follow the Current River downstream on this trail as far as possible.

Trail work will continue with mega events at Round Spring scheduled for April 22-23, Oct. 7-8, and Oct. 28-29.  All trail building events and details are posted on the OTA website at www.ozarktrail.com. You can also call the Round Spring Ranger Station at (573) 323-8093.

What could be better than building trails, developing lasting friendships, and connecting communities? Trails built by volunteers will be enjoyed for decades by visitors and members of the local community.

By Dena Matteson

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