Have you ever seen the largest natural spring in all of the national forests? Second largest in Missouri? Greer Spring is the one!
It is located about 18 miles south on Highway 19 as you are coming from Winona, Mo., in Shannon County. When you pass the Highway 19 bridge over the Eleven Point River, go up the hill, passing Greer Mill to your right, and the next right is the Greer Spring Trailhead.
There is a sign across the highway from the entrance to the area. It has a circle drive and a restroom. The trail itself is .9 miles down to the head of Greer Spring. There are two benches along the way if you need a break or just to sit and relax.
It is recommended that persons not in “good shape/health” should not take this hike. Or at least take someone along with them in case of any emergency. It can be a little steep coming up out of the spring. There are interpretation signs along the trail.
As you near the spring, you will hear it first before you actually see it. The spring averages a flow of 220 million gallons per day. Emerging from two openings, the spring flows from the mouth of Greer Spring Cave and boils up from the rugged bed of the spring branch.
It goes down a rock-filled canyon for one mile in length until it flows into the Eleven Point River. It more than doubles the flow of the river. The average temperature of the spring is 52-55 degrees.
In order to protect the scenic beauty of the area, there were certain federal restrictions placed on this area and the trail itself.
The following acts are prohibited in the area within 150 yards of the Greer Spring parking area, trail or spring branch in the Mark Twain National Forest and are necessary for the protection of public health, safety, and National Forest Property:
• Hunting or fishing. It is prohibited to hunt, trap, or fish in the Greer Spring Branch from its source to its confluence with the Eleven Point River. (36 CFR 261.58v).
• Possessing or operating a motorboat. To possess or operate any boat, canoe, kayak, raft, inflatable tube or other floatable device. (36 CFR 261.58n).
• Being in the area after sundown or before sunrise. (36 CFR 261.58l).
• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire. (36 CFR 261.52a).
• To possess any glass bottles or cans except with the parking area. (36 CFR 261.58cc).
• Use by any type of traffic or mode of transport prohibited by the order. This includes bicycles, ATVs, saddle or pack animals on the Greer Spring Trail. (36 CFR 261.55c).
• Forest development trails. Shortcutting a switchback in a trail. (36 CFR 261.55d).
Samuel Greer, for whom the spring is named, purchased the spring in 1859. In 1860 Greer built a gristmill which was powered by the water from the spring. This was the first commercial use of the spring.
Samuel Greer soon after served in the Civil War, volunteering first in the state militia, and later in the Confederate Army. Following the war, Greer returned home to find his mill burned and most of his livestock driven off by bushwhackers and roaming guerrillas.
He rebuilt the mill and resumed milling operations. Around 1870, Greer enlarged the operation, constructing a dam at the spring, installing a turbine waterwheel, and building a three-story mill building.
The mill had machinery for grinding corn, sawing lumber, ginning cotton, and carding wool. He also trained oxen to haul cartloads of material up and down the steep slope above the spring without a driver.
As more people settled in the area there was an increasing demand for flour, lumber, and other milled products. In 1883 the dam was rebuilt and construction started on a new roller mill located on the ridge above the spring.
However, work on the mill was stopped for a month in March of 1884, when Lewis Greer (Samuel’s son) was hit by falling timber and fell to his death onto the rocks below the dam.
Materials and equipment were taken from the old mill and used in the construction of the new roller mill. The new mill used a unique cable system for transferring the power from the turbine wheel at the spring to the new mill on the ridge.
As more farmers came, there was a need for more facilities. A camp house and corrals were constructed, along with a well.
Samuel Greer turned 71 years old in 1899 and sold his interests in the mill. The mill continued in operation until 1920, when it was permanently closed.
Louis E. Dennig purchased the land containing the mill and spring water in 1922. The Dennig family owned the land for the next 70 years. The family paid for the service of a caretaker to “watch over” the spring trail and maintain their cabin areas.
Anagalia “Norma” Krause lived in the house across from Greer Mill for over 35 years. She was a tough, strong, and colorful older woman. She is a big part of why the Greer Trail and spring area are so well maintained today. She truly “watched over” the place.
The U.S. Forest Service allowed her to continue her service. Norma became a volunteer to continue to “watch over” the Greer Mill and property. She grew up not far from there and lived with her family along the Ross Cemetery road. Along that road are 103 steps down to the river that she helped her father build.
This part of the river is called the “Stair Step” hole. It is located when you take the left fork along the river downstream from the Greer boat access.
She was a true gem. If anyone ever was kind enough and stopped to talk with her, they would find a wealth of knowledge from her on the surrounding area. I was blessed to have met her and talked with her.
There is another story in itself of the many people, just like Norma, around all these small rural communities that lived through all kinds of depression, limited technology, and hardships that we today cannot even begin to understand.
Norma passed away in her home on Jan. 26, 2015. She was 94 years old.
In 1987, the Dennig family proposed selling the Greer Spring area to the Anheuser-Busch Company of St. Louis. Anheuser-Busch planned to build a plant and bottle the spring water.
Because of public concern, the company decided not to purchase the property. Instead, they provided a grant for any non-profit organization that would purchase the spring and maintain it in its natural state.
Leo Drey, of St. Louis, purchased Greer Spring and the surrounding land and held property until Congress, with the help of Congressman Bill Emerson, passed legislation allowing the Forest Service to purchase the area.
Drey also pledged money toward the purchase of property by the Forest Service. This, along with the grant from Anheuser-Busch, to the River Network, allowed the Forest Service to purchase Greer Spring and the surrounding area in 1993.
It was agreed that the Dennig family stay and occupy the land for 20 years and then turn it officially over to the Forest Service. The Greer Spring and surrounding 120 acres are now part of the Mark Twain National Forest.
Restoring Greer Mill has been the focus here in the past few years when the property transferred ownership from private to the U.S. Forest Service.
There will be an open house for the public on Saturday, Oct. 15, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Meet at Greer Crossing Day Use Area/Boat Ramp down the hill and you can be shuttled up to see into the mill itself. There will be interpretation and a shuttle down to the Dennig cabins by the spring.
There also will be a fundraiser hosted by the Friends of the Eleven Point to further fund the restoring of Greer Mill.
There are 30 known springs flowing into the Eleven Point River. Greer Spring is the largest of them all.
If you want to see the largest spring in all the national forests and the second largest in Missouri, come and see this beauty! I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
(Dana Sturgeon is a recreation technician for the U.S. Forest Service, Mark Twain National Forest, in the Eleven Point Ranger District, Winona, Mo. She can be reached at 573-325-4233 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)