By Tom Uhlenbrock
There are more than 230 trails in the state parks of Missouri and – for the first time - a guide to hiking all of them.
“Trails of Missouri State Parks” is a 422-page, full-color book that lists trails in 58 state parks and historic sites. Each trail is summarized with a written description and a map that includes contour lines, GPS coordinates for trailheads and outstanding features like overlooks. The spiral-bound book costs $19.95 and is available at mostateparks.com.
Bill Bryan, director of state parks, said Missouri parks offer a bounty of diverse hiking landscapes, ranging from rolling prairies and river bottoms to Ozark hills and valleys. The guide will help visitors chose a hiking trail based on their needs and skill levels.
“Whether you want a strenuous, rugged hike over hill and dale or a gentle amble through the woods, the book is designed to help you find the outdoor experience you seek before you even leave the house,” Bryan said. “It’s like having a knowledgeable park superintendent, ranger or naturalist as your personal guide.”
The book, released for the holiday shopping season, is the result of a project begun in 2008 by Kelley Brent, who is state park trails coordinator. Her goal was to create a database that would standardize trail information for consistent management, development and maintenance of the state park trail system.
Brent and her staff of two, Jeff Bonney and Cari Gerlt, visited state parks, collecting data on each trail, which was then entered in the database. The extensive field work collected and organized information, including GPS coordinates with a corresponding digital image, for more than 930 miles of trails.
“We calculated distances, established and defined criteria like trailheads and designated uses and created new standardized trailhead signage,” Brent said. “We logged items and created management maps for each trail that consist of all technical features, such as bridges and culverts, natural obstacles and special features – the bells and whistles of a trail – like overlooks, waterfalls, benches and backpack camps.
“The database also provides a resource for projects related to trails, including emergency response plans, prescribed burns, area development and interpretation.”
Gathering all the information provided the opportunity for Missouri State Parks to create better brochures and maps, and to publish the trail guide to pass the information on to the public.
Good for the beginner, or veteran hiker
Stacy Bandelier, graphic supervisor for Missouri State Parks and project coordinator for the trail guide, said the book lists the 58 parks and historic sites in alphabetical order, and also by region. There is a color photograph with each park. Trails are described by usage, including hiking, equestrian, mountain biking, backpacking and ATV/ORV.
“You can flip through it and see some trails are complicated, some are quite simple,” Bandelier said. “For someone unfamiliar with hiking, the book gives guidelines for what to wear, what to take with you, how to prepare. The ethics of good trail use are listed, as well as the guidelines of the worldwide Leave No Trace body of information.”
The text includes a description of the highlights of the individual park or historic site, as well as a description for each trail.
For example, the entry on Hawn State Park says the Whispering Pines Trail is “generally considered one of the best hiking and backpacking trails in the state.
“It consists of a North Loop and a South Loop and provides the opportunity for day hikes of varying lengths or a longer backpacking trip. It meanders through a dramatic mixed hardwood and pine forest that is home to a variety of animals such as bobcat and wild turkey. Extensive exposures of sandstone and granite can be explored along the banks of Pickle Creek and the River Aux Vases. Mosses and ferns create a luxurious effect on the moist overhangs that occur along the two streams. Several overlooks along the route offer places to rest and enjoy the scenery...”
Brent said the trail database is the first of its kind, preparing Missouri State Parks to provide statewide and national trail information. The database also is being used as a model to update connecting trail systems throughout the state, including those managed by cities, municipalities and other government entities.
The statewide effort to consolidate trail data is being led by the Missouri Trail Alliance, a group of park and trail managers as well as trail enthusiasts. The goal is to have a comprehensive system that shares information on trails available through a website in the next couple of years.
Bryan, the state parks director, added that the new trail guide not only will allow visitors to pick a park, but to pick the exact trail within a park that is right for them.
“Ha Ha Tonka, for example, has a trail for everyone,” Bryan said. “You can stroll the accessible Castle Trail boardwalk overlooking several dramatic vistas for one of the best short trails in the state park system, or spend a long day hiking the Turkey Pen Hollow Trail into the backcountry. It’s up to you.”
Missouri State Park is a division of the Department of Natural Resources. For more information, visit mostateparks.com.