Photos and Text
By BRANDON BUTLER
Stepping out on the balcony of my beautiful room in the Betty Lea Lodge at Echo Bluff State Park, I am greeted by a panorama of sunrays cutting through fog rising along Sinking Creek. It’s a stunning sight.
Echo Bluff officially opened July 30, 2016, becoming our state’s 53rd state park. These parks, along with 34 historic sites, are managed by the Department of Natural Resources. Missouri’s state park system offers unique, inviting properties across the state, but Echo Bluff is truly exceptional.
Echo Bluff is located approximately 25 miles south of Salem on Highway 19. It’s about 15 miles north of Eminence. Sinking Creek flows through the park and is home to the namesake bluff.
BY THE CURRENT
The creek’s confluence with the Current River is just a little way beyond the park border. Echo Bluff is surrounded by public land, including conservation areas, national forest and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
“For years, the area surrounding the Current River has been a popular place for people to float, fish and explore the outdoors, and now this incredible area will be open as a state park for all to enjoy,” former Gov. Jay Nixon said at the opening. “From the experienced outdoorsmen to a family looking for a more modern experience, this park has it all, right in the heart of the Ozarks scenic riverways.”
At 430 acres, Echo Bluff is a year-round destination. The campground, which offers a mix of full-hookup sites and walk-in tent sites, is incredible. But if camping is not your thing, the impressive Betty Lea Lodge offers 20 state-of-the-art rooms. There are also 13 units in nine modern cabins.
The area offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Take a float on the Current River or the Jacks Fork. Land a trout at Montauk State Park. Soak and swim in the pool below Rocky Falls. Take a horseback ride through forested wilderness. Tour Alley Spring Mill. View the elk at Peck Ranch Conservation Area.
After staying in the lodge with a number of my media friends for a behind-the-scenes tour, I could not wait to take my family to Echo Bluffs on a camping trip. One recent weekend, we hooked up our camper and headed to the park. The girls were amazed by the lodge, and definitely want to go back and stay in a cabin. We stomped around in the creek and enjoyed a great interpretive program on nocturnal animals.
When we woke up Sunday morning, rain was steadily falling. A quick check of the Weather Channel showed the showers were expected to continue all day. I expected my girls to opt out of canoeing, but they surprised me and enthusiastically committed to floating 10 miles in the rain.
We rented a canoe from Carr’s. Our shuttle driver, who is the principal of a local school, opened up to me about the locals’ sentiment towards the park. He said folks were pretty apprehensive about getting behind the project at first, but now that it is complete and local business are seeing an influx of park visitors using their businesses, most locals have come around and are embracing the park as a positive addition to our Missouri Ozarks. Many take pride in folks from all over recognizing undeniable natural beauty of the area.
Brandon Butler is executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.