I’ve a tip for those who have not the time or funds to take a summer vacation beyond Missouri’s borders this summer, or if you simply enjoy reading.
A book came my way recently that I’ve ignored for 25 years: Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites. Don’t yawn, I did for a quarter century and it was a mistake.
If you want war or controversial political differences in your reading material, this book has it. Or for you time travelers, this book reveals colorful history that matters to both past and present. Nature underpins parks, and this book tackles nature and ecology in ways that will make you want to lace up your hiking boots.
Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites first appeared in 1992, but an updated and revised edition is off the presses, a coffee table style book with fine photography on high-quality paper.
This book cuts two ways. If you’re not planning on going anywhere this summer, it’s still a good summer read — well written and very well edited. On the other hand, the book’s detailed description of what various parks offer will have you packing up to go see new places.
Disclaimer, I do not know the authors nor the editor. Nor do I work for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources that administers state parks.
I did buy the book directly from Susan Flader, who edited the book and likely wrote many of the chapters. She was speaking about legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold, and on a whim, I bought the book she was peddling afterward. It arrives a century after the Missouri General Assembly’s first general appropriation for parks in 1917.
The chapters about geographical regions, parks and historic sites are considered essays and written in that style, thus more interesting and lively than one would expect from a state park book. Authors besides Flader are John A. Karel, B.H. Rucker, R. Roger Pryor and Charles Callison.
The book is freewheeling in writing style.
No author’s name is assigned to any individual essays. Authors pull no punches about conflicts and problems for parks, their establishment and protection, from the start of the system in the dawn of the automobile age to the present. They’re free to do so because most are retired or near retirement. Most have longtime connections to state parks but are not currently employed by the state.
Pryor and Callison are no longer living, their work carried forward from the first edition with updates. Flader is a professor emeritus of U.S. Western, environmental and Missouri history at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Her editing is top notch.
Now I will register one complaint. Weston Bend State Park gives the book a Platte County presence, and we’ll count Lewis and Clark State Park, since that park and Sugar Lake are just north of our boundary and for all practical purposes part of the community. Authors use Weston Bend and the City of Weston to talk about the area’s history.
I did not find the descriptive writing to have the zip, vigor and details for these two parks compared to the passion present in the writings for other parks in the Ozarks or the St. Louis region. This could be because I’m so familiar with our area that there are no delights from surprises.
However, I suspect an Ozark bias and writers not familiar with the history or the feeling these areas provide.
The dirt hiking trails at Weston Bend are spectacular. In places, the loess soil bluffs fall sharply into the deep Missouri River valley on one side, and into a thickly wooded valley on the other.
The park’s paved trail takes travelers uphill and down, across creeks and through forest sometimes deep. A viewing platform overlooking the river valley, easily accessible, offers one of the most spectacular natural views in western Missouri. Birders know the park as one of the most important places in the state for migrating songbirds.
Upland areas once farmed fields have potential for woodland or savannah restoration, the mix of prairie plants and trees. But Weston Bend is a baby in the system compared to other parks, dating to about 1980.
Our children will see what another half century will bring.
But don’t let my complaint stop you from buying this book if you like history, nature or a good place to take a family for a romp or a splash in a creek. State Parks is worth every penny of the $40 I paid for it. It’s impressive how geology, pioneer history, Civil War lore, politics, 20th century history, ecology, and future challenges are woven together. I now understand not just parks but the entire state better.
“We try to suggest not only what people saw in each park at the time of its establishment, but how the park or site itself and our thinking about it or uses of it have changed over time,” the authors wrote in the preface. They added: “Indeed, it is our hope that at least some readers will read this volume from beginning to end, rather than just dipping in here and there for particular parks or sites, and that they may gain thereby a fuller understanding of the natural and cultural history of the state …”
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.