January hike leads to fun discoveries at Cedar Gap

Recently my girlfriend Jenn and I decided that it was finally time to hike Cedar Gap Conservation Area.

Both of us recalled passing by the familiar brown Missouri Department of Conservation sign many times on Highway 60, but never stopping. 

So, on a chilly January Saturday, we set out about an hour east of Springfield to mark Cedar Gap off our list.

Cedar Gap is relatively new, having come under the Missouri Department of Conversation in 1999. 

A group of dedicated citizens banded together and raised funds to purchase the 391 acres that were deeded over to the conservation department.

“The Cedar Gap Plateau is recognized as the second-highest point in the State of Missouri,” according to the MDC website.

“From this large plateau, three large watersheds begin: Gasconade River, Finley River, and Bryant Creek.” 

As someone who works for a watershed conservation nonprofit, I was excited about our visit.

Before arriving at the parking lot and trailhead, we passed through the small rustic community of Cedar Gap. Founded in 1882, it was the highest point on the Kansas City, Springfield, and Memphis Railroad, at 1,629 feet. 

A railroad commissioner, Louis Erb, stopped at Cedar Gap and decided it would be a good place to build some summer cabins and purchased a nearby orchard.

Several Memphis residents followed Erb and purchased cabin sites; Cedar Gap soon became known as “the Memphis Colony.”

After making our way down the trail from the scenic overlook, we soon found ourselves walking along Bryant Creek, marveling at the Limestone formations and the swift riffles singing their song on a crisp, clear January afternoon. 

Before we headed out on our hike, I had done a bit of research and discovered that a spur from the main trail brings hikers to a cabin, and I had my mind set on visiting it. 

The cabin did not disappoint. What we found was an Ozarks version of a British bothy.

In the United Kingdom, a bothy is usually a hut or shelter that is left unlocked for hikers to use temporarily. 

The Mountain Bothies Association’s website says that a bothy is “camping without a tent,” and that there are usually no facilities — “No tap, no sink, no beds, no lights, and, even if there is a fireplace, perhaps nothing to burn… your comforts have to be carried in.” 

At one time, bothies were accommodations for itinerant farmworkers, and Scottish folk music is filled with the “bothy ballad” or songs sung by farm laborers, particularly in the northeast of Scotland.

As I opened the graffiti-covered door to the cabin, I noted a small wood stove, a table and chair with the remnants of a candle, and a ladder leading up to a sleeping platform located below the cabin’s rafters. 

A fire ring and some logs that had been used for camp stools were out front, and a sign hanging on a tree reminded visitors of the “bothy code” to respect the cabin and its surroundings. 

We certainly did our best to leave no trace of our presence.
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A search of the Internet produced little information about the cabin’s history; however, some of my photos from my smartphone posted on Facebook were all I needed. 

A friend of mine posted that two of his uncles were the ones who built it in the 1960s, complete with a camouflaged roof. 

It turns out the Ozarks bothy was originally a private dwelling before being given to the state as a respite for hikers.

“We’re just tickled pink that people enjoy it,” chuckled Jack Frantz, one of the cabin’s builders. 

Jack and his wife, his brother, Bill, and sister-in-law, and another couple purchased around 500 acres of land from a Dr. Turner of Centralia, Missouri, who spent the summers there in a trailer. 

Jack and his brother wanted to “put down roots” and hauled the lumber for the cabin down from stands of timber along the railroad tracks to the cabin site along the old road that led to some lead mines and the quarry. 

“We only invested about $25 in it originally,” noted Frantz. 

Much of the cabin was recycled from other nearby houses, as well as the Franklin stove that Jack brought down to help keep the cabin warm and cozy.

Jack and Bill originally put a lock on the door, only to discover that it had been shot off with a shotgun one day, as well as a hole in the door.

“We just decided to leave it open after that,” he said, noting that they would leave cans of spam or pork and beans in the small cabinet inside, and that folks would almost always replace what they took.

Eventually, the couples decided to sell the land, and soon afterward, a couple named David and Janice Reynolds organized the effort to purchase Cedar Gap and donate it to the Conservation Department, including a fellow named Johnny Morris, whose family hunted and fished Bryant Creek, according to a 2014 Springfield News-Leader article by Wes Johnson.

When there was talk of the cabin being torn down due to deterioration, a local Boy Scout Troop took on the project, and Jack helped the boys lay the rock floor that you’ll still see in the cabin today. 

The scouts carried the rock and gravel up from the creek in 5-gallon buckets. The scouts also replaced the camouflage roof.

Retracing our steps along the cabin spur to the main trail, we soon found ourselves climbing out of the hollow next to the abandoned quarry. 

The climb to the top of the ridge was steep and we soon found ourselves shedding layers in response to the rise of body heat and elevation. 

After walking along the railroad bed, we soon found ourselves back to the 4Runner and then heading back to Springfield, our brief foray at Cedar Gap concluded. 

Yet even as we headed back to Springfield, I found myself wanting to visit the Ozarks bothy along the banks of Bryant Creek’s cold waters again sometime.

Thanks, Jack and Bill, for sharing your cabin with us. We’ll see you on the river.

(Todd Wilkinson can be reached at 417-836-3756 or by email at toddwilkinson@missouristate.edu.)

2 thoughts on “January hike leads to fun discoveries at Cedar Gap

  1. Add another wonderful Missouri site to my list to visit in 2021. Thanks for sharing your experience in an engaging and enjoyable way.

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