Montauk State Park, one of the oldest and most popular destinations in the state park system, is getting a bit of a facelift for its 90th birthday.
Gov. Jay Nixon recently visited Montauk to inspect completed and planned improvements. He noted that all three of the state’s trout parks, which includes Bennett Spring and Roaring River, will have surprises for the thousands who show up for the opening of trout season next March.
Money for the improvements was well spent, Nixon said, because the three parks “hosted more than 1.8 million visitors last year, and are the backbone of our park system.”
Nixon spoke at Montauk on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the act creating the National Park Service. Next year, Missouri will mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of its state park system. A fund set up in 1917 to buy park lands was used to acquire land for Montauk State Park in 1926.
“Ninety years ago, the state purchased almost 1,400 acres at the headwaters of the Current River,” Nixon said. “Since that time, Montauk has played a vital role in the heritage, and economy, of Dent County.”
The improvements at Montauk include more than $4.5 million in projects both completed and ongoing. They include a new roof on the lodge, as well as updating of mechanical systems and wastewater treatment facilities.
After visiting Montauk, Nixon headed to Bennett Spring near Lebanon where he toured newly built cabins, visited the historic CCC dining lodge, which has a renovated roof and windows, and received an update on completed wastewater system upgrades. The work represents $3.1 million in upgrades.
Roaring River State Park near Cassville this year celebrated the $1.2 million renovation of the historic three-story lodge that was the centerpiece of CCC projects in the 1930s at the park. The lodge got a new roof and paint on the exterior, and a complete remodeling of its interior into rental units.
Since Nixon took office in 2009, Missouri has spent $69 million in renovations and improvements throughout its state park system. The primary source of funding was the state’s Parks, Soils and Water sales tax, which first was approved by voters in 1984 and is up for renewal in November. The portion of the sales tax that supports state parks averages about $7 a year per Missourian.
“We not only have a great park system – we take care of it,” Nixon said. “We get a tremendous bang for our buck from this one-tenth of one-percent sales tax. It’s the kind of fiscal responsibility and good stewardship that Missourians appreciate.”
Vacationing at Montauk
The governor joined Bill Bryan, director of state parks, on the tour of Montauk. Doug Rusk, superintendent of the park, led the way.
The group headed to the back rooms of Dorman Steelman Lodge and saw two water boilers and the kitchen electrical system, most of it original equipment when the lodge was constructed in 1964. All will be updated.
“The new boilers will be about one-third of the size and at least 25 percent more efficient,” Rusk said. “We’ll make the wiring able to provide electricity for all the changes that have been made over the years. It’s at 50 years old right now.”
From the lodge, the group drove to a back area of the park to three cell sewage lagoons, two of them adjacent to a section of the Current River that is a blue-ribbon trout area.
The two lagoon cells near the river will be removed, and the area will provide a buffer between the river and the remaining lagoon and a new one being built.
“They were constructed in the 1980s,” Rusk said. “We’ve never had any problems with them, but being right on the bank of the river is one of the concerns.”
While those projects are part of $4.5 million already funded, Rusk said the new budget calls for allocations to add 30 new campsites to the 146 at the campground.
Rusk said that the 30 new campsites, all of which will contain full hookups, will fill a growing demand.
“We sell more than 24,000 campsites a year; in summer, we’re over 86 percent occupancy,” he said. “We get a lot of families that come out and stay for a week, sometimes two weeks.
“This is their vacation. They don’t go out West, they come to Montauk.”
Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax
The expanded campground, and planned future renovation of CCC-era cabins at Montauk, will be supported by revenues provided by the Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax, which was renewed by large margins in 1988, 1996 and 2006.
Revenues from the tax are split evenly by parks and the Missouri Soil and Water Conservation Program, which assists farmers and landowners. It has funded conservation projects credited with preventing more than 177 million tons of soil from eroding into streams, rivers and lakes.
Barry Hart, executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, recently wrote an article for Rural Missouri magazine noting that the state is fortunate to have a dedicated tax for maintaining its parks.
“Other states built nice park systems, but forgot to include a mechanism for keeping them that way,” Hart wrote.
In his remarks at Montauk State Park, the governor pointed out that Missouri was the first state to pass a sales tax for parks and water and soil conservation. The funding source has allowed the park system to expand, and to remain free to all.
As a result, Missouri State Parks have been named best in the nation for camping and hiking. Attendance in parks last year, Nixon said, was a record 19.2 million visitors, and is in line to break that figure this year.
“I want to thank the people of the Show-Me State for their support of our state parks, and let them know that we will continue to invest wisely in these state treasures through projects such as we’re doing here at Montauk,” Nixon said.