Webb Creek Park — best kept secret in camping

Kids making their free crafts — today gourd bird-feeders!

Located on scenic Clearwater Lake in the south-central part of Missouri, Webb Creek Park could be the “best little campground” in America.  

Owned and governed by the Corps of Engineers, it is hosted by Judy and Rick Mansfield from Ozark Adventures.  

Unlike most public campgrounds, firewood is delivered free to each campsite as needed and soap is supplied in the restrooms. But that’s just the beginning!

Nestled into the hills on the “quiet side” of Clearwater Lake, it is one of the older campgrounds in the area. Hence the majestic trees and plentiful shade.   

Each family gets a copy of the book “Webb Creek Adventures” complete with camping tips, recipes, local tales and descriptions of local points of interest.

At least twice each season, there’s “Camper Appreciation Day” with free food and entertainment. Old-fashioned “cake walks” complete with live music and free pastries are common. 

Every Saturday evening campers are treated to a storyteller. Invitation to gather ’round a fire to listen to “Runt” Johnson speak of bull-walkers; or Bill “Bristleface” McDougal tell of his times as a traveling toy salesman and actually get to play with the 1950’s era toys that he peddled.  

Families enjoy “Bean Bag Double-Can” and “Game of Graces”; little ones can practice with “Climbing Bear” and prepare for the eventuality they might someday need to milk a cow.

Bill “Bristleface” McDougal entertaining campers during story-time.

Maybe C.W. Nichols, 1950’s river guide. Campers hear stories of when the guide did the work and all floaters did was hook and reel in “red eyes” and “bronze backs.”  

They’ll see a vintage wooden johnboat built in 1947; see a cubic-yard size zinc-lined cooler. In 2018, camp host and writer Rick Mansfield portrayed more than a dozen different characters throughout the five-month season.  

Activities Director Cynthia Dea does crafts with kids each Saturday and Sunday; as well as teaches such skills as Dead Reckoning and fire-building. 

Children make birdhouse gourds and assorted wind chimes. Bamboo is used for picture frames and placemats. Children take their projects and newfound skills home with them.  

There are scavenger hunts where children get to win prizes once their lists are completed. 

Those interested can get gloves and trash bags and while hiking or enjoying the lake, take advantage of Stream Team opportunities to get free T-shirts.

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On a fairly untraveled gravel road, see and climb the area’s first metal fire tower, circa 1926; rest at Buford Pond and explore some of the Tram Roads built turn of the 20th century as logging was in full swing via railroads.  

Quite possibly get a glimpse of some of the elk herd at a small roadside food plot; especially early morning. Elk were repatriated into the Missouri Ozarks in 2011 and around Ellington are the best viewing areas.

Finish the day with an afternoon float on the Current River. Down in this area the river is much larger. Floating, especially on weekdays, is a much more leisurely adventure.  

Again, those getting in their kayaks early have great opportunity to see elk and bald eagles. You can even catch some nice smallmouth bass in this stretch, especially at the Ant Hole shortly below the Hwy. 106 bridge. 

On the north side, east end of that very bridge, take the Ozark Trail. Breathtaking is the right word for the view from “the peak.”  

There are two fine viewing spots along the bluffs overlooking Owls Bend. Be sure and pack your binoculars, for the river-bottom fields are great places to again see the majestic elk. Come back this fall and listen for their bugling! A sound gone for more than a century-and-a-half, but recently returned.

Embrace the challenge of Rocky Creek by turning south on the Ozark Trail. No matter the season, wildlife and flora abound as you cross Rocky Creek and visit the “undershot” works and structure of Klepzig Mill.  

A classic example of “sawmill house” construction, the business was built by the son of a Prussian-German immigrant in 1928. With a rough cement spillway, the use of a hood hinge from an old Model A truck, and a corrugated iron roof it is a lasting testament to the ingenuity of the early Ozark settlers and the challenges they faced.

Wander another mile downstream and visit the Buzzard Mountain Shut-Ins. Explore rock structures more than a billion years old. Climb to the top of Stegal Mountain; take in the magnificence of Rocky Falls.  

Many maps are available online at www.ozarktrails.com as well as kept at the Webb Creek campground gatehouse.  

Accept the challenge of the Scour Trail near Johnson Shut-Ins back north off Hwy. 21. See how many geological layers you can identify where the 2005 dam breach cut through the side of Proffitt Mountain.  

Try and find the 500 million-year-old Paleozoic beach from where these were once islands surrounded by warm seas.

For a respite from the weather, or just something different; check out the Reynolds County Museum. There are always a lot of historic artifacts from the area displaying what households, farms and businesses were like the century past; and right now a wonderful quilt collection is also on display. Please obey the 23 mph speed limit signs posted in town.

Load your friends and family up and watch a movie at one of the few remaining drive-in theatres in the state. Live a piece of history before it’s gone.   

Catch an “oldie but a goodie” on Throwback Thursdays. The 21 Drive-In is just a few miles south of Ellington.

By Christy Roberts

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