My wife and I recently made a trip to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park in Middlebrook, Mo., and were rewarded with being able to see a lot of incredible views of Mother Nature at her best.
It had been quite a few years since we had been there and so we were immediately impressed with all the changes that have been made, especially since the early morning hours of 12-14-2005, when the Taum Sauk Reservoir atop nearby Proffit Mountain breached sending approximately 1.3 billion gallons of water rampaging down the mountain and through the park.
The only people in the park at the time were the park superintendent and his family who were fortunate indeed to survive the ordeal. Cleaning up after this disaster must have been a massive undertaking but a year later the park was opened for limited day use; however, no swimming was allowed.
Finally, in 2009 the river and shut-ins were reopened and a grand re-opening took place in 2010 showing off all the new renovations and the new visitor’s center at the entrance of the park.
Park restorations were paid for from a large settlement from Ameren UE who runs the nearby hydroelectric power plant at Taum Sauk. During the downtime at the park, the local small businesses suffered a big decline in their income from the lack of the many tourists and campers who normally frequented the park.
When you visit the Shut-Ins, you will see warning signs that tell you if you hear a siren, you should seek higher ground immediately in case there are any future problems.
The park got its name from the Johnston (the “t” was later dropped) family who settled the area in the 1800s. Three generations of this family farmed the land. There is a cemetery in the park where 36 members of this family lie at rest. Joseph Desloge, a St. Louis resident and member of the lead mining family, bought most of this land from descendants of the Johnson family and in 1955 donated the land to the state to be used as a state park.
It is the East Fork of the Black River that winds its way through this park and over the years has eroded the stones in the river so all that is left are the grayish purple rocks called rhyolite that form the shut-ins.
A shut-in is defined as a place where the river’s width is limited by hard rock that is resistant to erosion. In other words, those huge gray boulders that you see in the river aren’t going anywhere. The power of erosion has met its match by those beautiful, majestic stones.
The park offers camping, 45 miles of hiking trails and, of course, the swimming available at the Shut-Ins. Children need to be supervised in this area because there are no lifeguards. It is “swim at your own risk.”