From corporate retreat to public refuge
For thousands of years, the rugged but breathtaking landscape of the Current River hills drew settlers to the area to work in the nearby iron mine or harvest timber. In the 1930s, a major development occurred along the banks of the Current River. The Alton Box Board Co., a boxboard and paper manufacturing company from Alton, Ill., began construction of its corporate retreat. The company used the complex as its retreat for executives, their families and important customers until 1996. The buildings reflect the rustic architectural style of buildings made popular by the National Park Service in the early part of the 20th century. The Alton Club included man-made lakes, a lodge, barracks for both men and women, gymnasium, pool hall and other recreational facilities such as the boat house. The club offered floating, fishing, swimming, hunting, tennis, horseback riding, hiking, trap and skeet shooting and golf.
The unique complex of buildings is historically significant regionally as one of the only few remaining intact examples of the private corporate retreats once found along the banks of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. The historical significance of the buildings and their associated cultural landscape resulted in approximately 35 acres, including 21 individual structures, being listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Another significant chapter in the history of the area occurred in 1964 with the creation of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first national park designated to protect a wild river system. The ONSR includes significant portions of both the Current and Jacks Fork rivers and their many tributaries. Current River State Park is located along Current River and a portion of the park is within the scenic easement of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
Much of the area around Current River State Park exhibits the heavily wooded rolling hills, rugged karst topography, bubbling springs and clear rivers and streams distinctive to Ozark landscapes. The nature of the landscape prevented much large-scale development and agriculture and was, to a large extent, responsible for preserving the area’s wilderness quality and scenic beauty.
The Current River Hills, a rugged and picturesque subsection of Missouri’s Ozark Highlands, form the heart of one of the most heavily wooded landscapes in the modern Ozarks. Native oaks and shortleaf pines cloak the steep-sided valleys that sometimes exceed 500 feet deep. Within these valleys lie fens, bluffs, sinkhole ponds, springs and caves with a biological richness that includes more than 170 rare species and at least 30 species that are mostly unique to the area. The centerpiece is the exceptionally clear Current River, which is noted as one of the Midwest’s most biologically significant waterways.
As the heart of one of the largest wooded areas in the Midwest, the area landscape is considered important to the long-term survival of interior birds and other woodland-dwelling wildlife. Being such a biologically rich area has led to further distinctions as part of an Audubon Important Bird Area, Outstanding State Resource Water and one of Missouri’s Conservation Opportunity Areas with a focus on the woodland, karst, aquatic and special terrestrial natural communities.