Ruins, trails & more at Meramec State Park

By Dennis Bresnahan

Meramec State Park is one of the most popular Missouri State Parks. And why shouldn’t it be? With 6,896 acres, it has almost everything a state park could have.

It has a very large campground, a great visitor center, many trails (including a backpacking trail with eight backpack camps), rental cabins, a camp store with a restaurant, picnic areas with picnic shelters, a tour cave, ruins of an 19th century iron furnace, canoe rentals, boat launches, a river to swim in, and even a motel with a conference center.

It is also one of the oldest Missouri state parks. It was acquired by the state in 1927 and saw active development by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  

At that time trails were laid out and numerous buildings, picnic shelters, and trail shelters were built including two stone castle-like shelters along the Bluff Trail overlooking the Meramec River.

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Emergency Conservation Work Act, better known as the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC.  

Nationwide, over 3 million young men were recruited to build bridges, fish hatcheries, fire towers, state and national parks, and restore historical buildings.  

They also planted trees, fought fires, laid trails, and implemented dozens of soil and water projects.

In Missouri, the CCC developed several state parks, including over 338 buildings and structures. Civilian Conservation Corps Company 2728 built Meramec State Park.  

CCC enrollees were housed in barracks, fed in a mess hall, and led with military-type discipline. They were provided health and education services and received pay of $30 a month. They kept $5 and sent the rest home to their families.

Company 2728 housed about 220 men in each six-month enrollment period. Many stayed for two years and gained valuable experience in forestry, carpentry, mechanics and other trades.

Some 2,000 men worked out of this camp during its eight-year life between 1934 to 1942.

Outside of the Meramec State Park camp store and restaurant building that was built by the CCC in 1933 is a monument to Civilian Conservation Corps Company 2728.

It is located on the building’s parking lot on the road to the campground. The plaques on the monument tell the story of the CCC and the construction of the park.

Just inside the camp store and restaurant building is a small CCC museum with display cases containing many pictures, letters, and artifacts.  

Other displays show workers and the equipment that they used along with many old photographs of Meramec State Park from the 1930s.

There is even a plaque from 1933 dedicating this building as “Meremac Lodge.” (Note the different way Meramec was spelled back then.)

It is worth stopping here to see this museum even if you don’t need anything from the store.

Although the CCC camp that built Meramec State Park is long gone, the ruins of it still remain. They are now known as Civilian Conservation Corps Camp 2728 Historic Site and Trail.  

But you have to leave Meramec State Park to see it. It is located across the Meramec River in the 4,045-acre Meramec Conservation Area.

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Watch for the first gravel road on you left and turn into the parking lot. There is no sign on the highway, so go slow. If you get to the sign that says Meramec Conservation Area, you have gone too far.

The first thing you will see is the entrance to the trail with “CO. 2728 CCC 1934-1942” overhead. There are seven numbered stops along the one-fourth mile round-trip trail where you can see some of the ruins, foundations, and stone chimneys of the camp.

If there are any brochures in the box at the entrance, take one to follow the map and read about each stop. (There have not been any brochures in the box the last few times that I have been there.)

Here are the seven stops:

• Number 1 is the entrance and the monument that was placed here in 2005 by members of the National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni to commemorate the men who served here.  

There is also a kiosk with a photograph of the site from the 1930s along with a map of the entire camp that gives you an idea of how large the camp was.

• Number 2 is the foundation of the wash house that provided lavatory, shower, and latrine service to the camp.

It contained about 10 showers, lavatories, and mirrors along with toilet facilities. The barracks which housed the men did not have water.

• Number 3 is the ruins of the mess hall which was a combination kitchen and dining hall. The CCC cooks prepared meals for the enrollees, state supervisory personnel, and the military administrative officers.  

Breakfast and dinner was served here, and lunch was prepared and delivered to the men at their worksites. Cleanup was rotated among the CCC men.

• Number 4 is the site of the powerhouse and well which was the source for the water pumped to the water tower.

• Number 5 is the site of the water tower which was a structure with a large round tank at the top made of cypress staves and supported by a wooden frame.  

Water was stored here to service the wash house, mess hall, camp hospital, and other facilities.

• Number 6 is the cabin. Here can be seen one of the stone fireplaces and chimneys that still exist. The cabin was one of several living quarters for state supervisory personnel, and many of them had families living with them.  

These foremen specialized in teaching forestry, mechanics, construction, plumbing, blacksmithing, and other skills to the CCC men.

• Number 7 is the officer quarters that contained offices, sleeping facilities, and a store and supply room for the camp’s administrative personnel. This building served as the camp headquarters.

Another stone fireplace and chimney survives here. Military men were assigned to serve as commanding officer, mess officer, and camp surgeon. The state provided an education advisor.

After touring this historic site, you can visit the rest of the Meramec Conservation Area by turning left on Highway 185 and then left again at the area sign at the top of the hill.

Here you will find several trails, including a 10.5-mile multi-use trail and a 1.3-mile disabled-accessible paved trail along the Meramec River.  

There are also caves, cliffs, scenic views, and abundant wildlife. Hunting is also allowed for deer, turkey, and squirrel.

(Dennis Bresnahan can be reached at (314) 868-7297 or

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