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Donations a key part of Missouri State Parks

Donations to Missouri’s state park system come in various shapes and sizes. But they are all important to preserving the state’s natural, historical and cultural resources.

One of the larger donations was the 2,400 acres in southwest Missouri that Dr. Thomas Sayman, a St. Louis soap manufacturer, presented to the state in 1928 after his plan for a resort fell through. The land became Roaring River State Park, a trout-fishing park that drew 633,797 visitors last year.

Jacob Babler wanted to commemorate his brother’s love of nature and donated 868 acres to the state. The land became the core of Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park, which opened in 1937 and is one of the most popular parks in the St. Louis area.

Not all donations come in the form of land.

The late Ted Jones and his wife, Pat, donated $200,000 to help the state acquire an abandoned rail line that followed the Missouri River from Machens to Sedalia. They added $2 million to develop the track as a recreational trail. Ted Jones died shortly after Katy Trail State Park opened in 1980 as the nation’s longest rails-to-trails conversion.

Leo Drey of St. Louis is a lumberman and devoted conservationist. When he finds geologic treasures within his Pioneer Forest, he often leases them to the state for public use. Grand Gulf State Park and Dillard Mill State Historic Site both are owned by Drey, and he leases them to the Department of Natural Resources for $1 each a year.

Some of the smallest parcels have the most history.

William and Carol Norton live at Osage City and knew a hillside overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Osage rivers near their home had special significance. A rock is carved with the initials of several members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which visited in June of 1804.

“They spent two nights at the site, it was specifically mentioned in Clark’s journal,” William Norton said.

The Nortons donated 13 acres that opened as Clark’s Hill/Norton State Historic Site, in time for the expedition’s bicentennial celebration in 2004. A half-mile wooded trail leads around the Norton’s home to an overlook.

“On top of the bluff, it’s nice and breezy, especially in the summer time,” said William Norton. “You can see the rock, and where the rivers come together.”

One of the smallest donations was 2.4 acres given by Mary Elizabeth White and Lee Summerlin that earlier this year was added to the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site. The forested property includes a small spring-fed creek that the Missouri State Guard and Union troops fought over as a water source.

“Donations such as this are very important to the state park system because they help us protect pieces of history that might otherwise be lost,” said Bill Bryan, director of the department’s Division of State Parks. “It is this kind of generosity that has helped the state park system become what it is today.”