Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Montauk State Park, Missouri

CCC-constructed picnic pavilion (aka shelter)
This feels a little weird. Usually if I spend more than five minutes in a park I'll do a post. All it takes is a ten minute walk in to see a waterfall and I've got half a dozen photos and several hundred words of verbiage up. Not this time. We've been at Montauk State Park for exactly 4 weeks today and I've yet to do much more than gripe about the fact some guys think Busch Lite cans are flammable. Not one word about the history of the park, where it's located, or the plethora of cultural resources, e.g., numerous structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Montauk State Park is located in the Missouri Ozarks at the headwaters of the Current River. The river is formed where Pigeon Creek and the discharge from Montauk Spring merge. The Montauk Spring has an impressive discharge rate -- approximately 43 million gallons per day -- so the river is a real river from its start, which is an interesting contrast with my memories of the North Platte in Nebraska. The Platte is called a river as long as it's still in the state, but by the time you get to where it's flowing in from Wyoming you can step across it without worrying about getting your feet wet. But I digress. Montauk Spring is one of those interesting springs that bubbles up through sand. When there is a lot of water flowing through the aquifer, it can look like it's boiling. Missouri's been in drought for several years now so the boiling is now more like a gentle blooping, but you can still see the sand at the spring bubbling as the water flows up through it. The water is amazingly clear.
Fishermen downstream from the ruins of a low water bridge.

Since we arrived here, I've had several people ask me about the origins of the name Montauk. According to the park website, the area was named by settlers from Suffolk County, New York. It may be an old Indian name, as some people guess, but if it is, the Indians were from Long Island. The abundant water from the spring meant this area provided an ideal location for a flour mill. Several were built along the river; most burned down. The Montauk Mill constructed in 1896 survived; it operated for 30 years until the state purchased the land in 1926 and created a state park.

Montauk State Park is one of the oldest state parks in the Missouri state parks system. It is also one of four "trout parks" in Missouri. The other three are Bennett Spring, Roaring River, and Meramec.

The trout parks, Montauk included, are interesting from an organizational perspective because they involve cooperation between two separate state agencies: a cold water fish hatchery is co-located within or adjacent to each park. The hatcheries are operated by the Department of Conservation; the parks are operated by the Department of Natural Resources. Of the four trout parks, Montauk reputedly has the best fishing because, among other reasons cited, the river is managed in a way that keeps it as close to to a natural stream as possible. The park is large enough and the river contains enough bends that there are approximately 3 miles of river along which a person can fish. One section of the river is fly fishing only, but most is open to any lure or bait, artificial and live.
Rearing ponds at the hatchery

Most fishermen (which includes men, women, and kids), however, seem to congregate as close as possible to the upper end. This is despite the fact that when the fish are planted the plantings occur at multiple locations. You know, it's not like they open a door at the hatchery and tell the first 500 fish on any given day to "Go, swim free. You're on your own now, No more pellets; it's time you go looking for lunch instead of having it come to you." Nope. They load the fish into a truck and dump them in at a variety of points along the river. Nonetheless, based on the herd behavior of the people fishing and the way they seem to enjoy being shoulder-to-shoulder upstream from the campground, I'd guess that the fish that get dumped into the river at the locations farthest downstream from the actual hatchery are the ones that live the longest. There's a white board at the Lodge where successful fishermen can record catches they're particularly proud of; I noticed the other day that the most recent entry was an 8-lb trout. Obviously, not all the fish end up in a landing net right after being released.

Looking down the center of loop 2 on a day when the park was full.
There is more to Montauk SP than just the fish, of course. The park sits in a hollow in the Ozarks. The scenery is gorgeous, especially at this time of year. There's an abundance of wildlife. There are hiking trails. The park is lucky enough to have a naturalist who seems to have a gift for presenting interesting programs and connecting with any kids who are listening. The campground is a good one and has a nice playground for families camping with small children. There are numerous picnic tables scattered throughout the park, and there are two picnic pavilions (aka shelters). Two other playgrounds are located near the picnic shelters. It's a great family park.

As for the campground, the sites are almost all large enough that even someone with a leviathan of a Class A motorhome or a super-long travel trailer can park and not feel crowded. Although I've talked with campers who have been coming here since the 1960s who can recall when the campground was basically an open field and access was via the low water bridge shown above, the campgrounds now enjoy mature landscaping and the amenities campers today expect: electrical service and access to a showerhouse. (The only full service sites in the park are the campground host spaces.) The park has two showerhouses, both of which include laundry rooms with coin-operated washers and driers. The campground has four loops, one of which is basic, one has 30 amp electrical service, and two have 50 amp. Construction of a 5th loop is scheduled to begin in 2015. Whoever picked out the trees when they designed the campground loops knew what he or she was doing because there's a variety of deciduous species: maples, river birches, sycamores, sweet gums, oaks, etc., for shade along with smaller flowering trees like dogwoods and redbuds for visual interest.

Campground host site, Loop 2. 
In addition to the campground, there are a motel and rental cabins available for people who prefer more creature comforts (or less work) than a typical RV or tent provides. A number of the cabins were constructed by the CCC in the 1930s, but there are also newer units. The motel (aka The Lodge at Montauk) includes a full-service restaurant, a snack bar, and a store that sells fishing tackle, souvenirs, and a few basic groceries.

Montauk SP shares a boundary with Ozark National Scenic Riverways. OZAR begins where Montauk ends on the Current River. A number of interesting historic sites within OZAR -- the Susie Nicholls farm, the Welch Hospital ruins -- are within a few minutes drive of Montauk, as well as several locations for launching canoes or kayaks if a person is interested in floating the river.

People fishing from the remnants of the other low water bridge in the park.
Overall Montauk is a great place to camp if crowds don't bother you. This park is popular. Anyone coming here during the "on" season hoping to commune in silence with nature is doomed to disappointment. The No Camping Vacancies sign has gone up by the fee booth pretty early each weekend we've been here. During the peak months, reservable sites are often reserved many months in advance, and the first come first served sites tend to fill up remarkably fast. On Fridays and Saturdays RVs will be circling like sharks before noon hoping to see someone in one of those sites pull out. Even the basic sites fill up fast with people who still enjoy tent camping. It's a good thing most campers leave sites clean because when there's maybe a 10-second gap between one camper leaving and another one backing into that space, there's no way the hosts or regular maintenance are going to have time to check the site for trash. The park does hope to eventually complete a back country hiking trail that would include two hike-in camping sites, but that trail's development is probably several years away. In short, the park is awesome, but if you're looking for solitude, look elsewhere.


  1. The CCC did a lot of cool things all over this country back in those days.

  2. Very pretty. How is the tick situation. It has gotten to the point in Maine that that is concern when we walk in the woods.
    the Ol'BUzzard

  3. The tick season was over, but the chiggers were still active when we got to the park. The S.O. had a few bites that looked suspiciously like the damage chiggers can do. I was actually more worried about poisonous snakes, but the skunks seem to do a good job of keeping the campground snake-free.

    I never saw or smelled a skunk myself but the park naturalist said there were a fair number of them around.

  4. Looks like a beautiful spot. Love the pictures


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