Government Intervention and Modern Recreation
The expansion of state and federal government intervention in the development of the Current and Jacks Fork Riverways into a recreation ground for nature-seeking urbanites dominated the history of the area after 1920. Many saw tourism as the economic salvation of the Missouri Ozarks, including the Current River region. First, Ozark leaders and state officials collaborated in establishing a state park system that focused on developing the recreation potential of the Ozarks. Next, the federal government undertook a variety of programs aimed at managing, developing, and preserving Ozark resources for a variety of uses. In particular, the U.S. Forest Service introduced the scientific management of the timber; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed hydroelectricity from the rivers; and the National Park Service established a park to preserve the Current River environment. All of these federal actions also emphasized the development of recreation. In the Current River basin, the development of tourism involved a complicated mingling of recreation and environmental preservation that differed from major tourist developments in the central and western Missouri Ozarks.
A variety of social and economic trends in society at large supported this interest in the region. After decades of industrial growth, by 1910 one-half of Americans lived in cities for the first time in the nation's history. In Missouri, between 1870 and 1920, the population of St. Louis rose from 310,864 to 772,897 and that of Kansas City climbed from 32,260 to 324,410.  Expanding affluence accompanied the urban/industrial growth. This was evident in the widespread ownership of automobiles that enabled the urban population to travel more and made commonplace a nineteenth century phenomena, the family vacation.
By the 1920s, changes in the work and leisure habits of many urban dwellers and the advent of mass automobile production inaugurated a "New Age of Automobility."  The trend toward mass production, accompanying the accelerated industrialization of the economy after the Civil War, tied work and the labor force more and more to the clock for the sake of efficiency or greater profits. In the preindustrial era, most urban workers pursued their trade at an individual pace and worked a long work day with frequent informal breaks for socializing and relaxation. The rise of large factories and corporate organization changed work culture because employers demanded employees to perform their work task during specified hours of the day. This more formally separated leisure time and work time. These changes affected an increasing percentage of the American population as more people moved from the countryside to the city. They also resulted ultimately in a shorter industrial work week, which declined by twenty hours during the fifty years before 1930. Formal vacation time away from work also resulted. 
After 1914, the mass production of automobiles afforded many urban workers, especially the middle class, with access to vacation lands away from the city. Nationwide, the number of registered automobiles and trucks rose between 1905 and 1915 from 9,400 to 2,490,932. In 1925, the numbers soared to 20,050,735. Automobiles permeated all corners of the country.  In Missouri, the number of motor vehicles rose sharply from 640 in 1903 to 33,310 in 1913, and then jumped to 346,838 in 1920. The large urban centers, of course, housed most of the automobile owners. In 1921, 69,664 vehicles were registered in St. Louis compared to 45,693 in Kansas City. Automobile ownership in the rugged hill areas of the Ozarks, including Carter and Shannon Counties, lagged behind the rest of the state. Comparing the number of persons per vehicle by geographic areas underscored the discrepancy. In 1921, there were 9.86 persons per vehicle in Missouri; 11.09 and 7.09 persons per vehicle in St. Louis and Kansas City respectively; and similar numbers in the rural counties in the fertile prairie north of the Missouri River. On the other hand, much fewer vehicles per capita existed in the more rugged Ozark region. In Carter County, the number of persons per vehicle equalled 44.54 whereas Ripley County had 43.07 and Shannon County had 46.70. In Dent County, where the terrain was less dissected by steep ridges and the land supported greater commerce, the figure was 25.50. 
An almost immediate connection existed between automobiles and recreation. Beginning with William K. Vanderbilt's Long Island Motor Parkway built during 1906-1911, the first expressways designed for unimpeded motor vehicle traffic were called parkways. Historian Kenneth T. Jackson noted that "many were landscaped to accommodate the popular practice of pleasure driving. . . [and] were designed more for recreation than for rush hour journeys to work."  Related to this rising cultural phenomena, the improvement of the roads in the Current River basin was in large part an effort to tap the tourist market of these automobiling recreationists.
Inadequate roads ranked at the top of the tangible obstacles hampering the development of a tourist industry in the Current River basin and other sections of the rugged Courtois Hills. Railroads, the leading nineteenth century transportation innovation, entered the region to exploit the timber. Their flexibility in moving people and freight was restricted to the immediate vicinity of the rails, so the capabilities of this system for transporting tourists to Ozarkian vacation spots was limited.  Furthermore, by the 1930s, many of the train lines into the Current River region had either shut down or greatly curtailed their services. A tourist industry based on automobile transportation required a modern network of roads, and the wagon roads and paths of the Current River area nowhere resembled such a system.
Better roads in the Current River region were the product of increasing state and federal support. In 1913, the Missouri legislature created the State Highway Department to promote the construction of good roads by the counties. The new department had few substantive powers. Its major accomplishment was to authorize county courts to appoint three member county highway boards. Major tax investments in the improvement of Missouri roads came after the passage of the Federal Road Act of 1916. The federal law offered funding aid to states that approved matching funds to build "rural post roads and for other purposes." In the next year, Missouri adopted the Hawes Road Law, enabling the use of federal funds. The legislation authorized the State Highway Board and State Highway Engineer to identify a 3,500-mile road system to take advantage of the federal aid. World War I stymied road building and other domestic programs. 
Nevertheless, some public works progressed and two road projects in Carter County and one in Dent County were approved for federal funding administered under the Hawes Law. The Dent County project involved a forty-three-mile earthen road cutting diagonally from the Texas County line to the Iron County line. The residents supported the construction with a $160,000 bond. Each of the Carter County jobs called for thirty miles of gravel road with earth shoulders. The county, however, did not issue any special bonds for the construction, and one project, part of the South Missouri Cross-State Highway (future Route 16 and Highway 60), failed to develop because of the lack of local funding. The other road, the Jefferson City North and South Highway (future Highway 21), ran from the Butler to the Reynolds County lines. Carter County later adopted a $75,000 road bond issue. In neighboring Shannon County, a highway bond election failed. The State Highway Board noted that bond movements suffered similar fates in thirty-four county elections at the end of 1919 and in 1920. 
State support of highway construction increased sharply after the end of World War I. In 1920, Missouri adopted a constitutional amendment that authorized the sale of $60 million of state bonds for roads. The highway department supported a "Get Missouri Out of the Mud" campaign to promote the bond issue. The amendment also targeted all vehicle registration fees to pay for the principal of the bond debt. In 1921, the Centennial Road Law created a bipartisan State Highway Commission to replace the Highway Board, and the Commission was responsible for the dispensation of the bond funds. The act authorized the Commission to construct and maintain a state highway system of about 6,000 miles of secondary and 1,500 miles of primary roads. 
The founding of the State Highway Commission and the issuing of state construction bonds resulted in a boon to road building across Missouri, including the Ozarks. The value of the road work completed on the Missouri highway system increased from about $2 million in 1920 to over $45 million in 1924. In 1923 and 1924, a number of bridge and road construction projects were underway in Shannon and Carter counties. There were three road projects in Shannon County and all were earth surface roads. This included a five-mile stretch on Route 16, the former South Missouri Cross-State Highway and a major east-west road across Missouri. One bridge was under construction at Round Spring on Route 19, a north-south highway through Shannon County. In Carter County, one bridge and five road construction projects were either underway or completed. Four of the road contracts went to building over nine miles of state Route 16. This road was mainly a graded-earth type. The new bridge crossed the Current River at Van Buren on Route 16 and replaced a damaged bridge that the county had restored after a 1915 flood. 
The roads in Carter and Shannon County began to emerge from an unimproved, primitive condition during the 1930s with aid from the federal government. In the mid-1920s the main highways were still incomplete. The journal of an Evangelical minister, Paul A. Wobus, described the difficulty of travelling by automobile in the region. Beginning his Shannon County missionary work in 1926, Reverend Wobus noted both the worsening roads and the "exhilarating" scenery during his early trips into the county. In 1926, Highway 19 ended at the Dent-Shannon County line so Wobus traveled into Shannon County along the old Salem-Eminence Road. The road occasionally narrowed to one lane and crossed numerous creeks. Stopping for gas at Timber, a post office hamlet four to six miles above Round Spring, Wobus purchased one and a half gallons from a store keeper who furnished the fuel from a barrel. Wobus asked about the conditions of the road to Round Spring, and the merchant responded that he should make it if he could maneuver the second of the seven fords between Timber and the spring.  Highway 19 was completed to Round Spring in the late 1920s and to Eminence in 1930. The federal government made additional federal highway funding available after the Great Depression worsened in the early 1930s. Between 1931 and 1935, Route 16, which went across Carter and Shannon counties became U.S. Highway 60.  In 1930, Missouri enacted roadway beautification programs. The state's improvement of the secondary roads in Shannon and Carter County also expanded greatly between 1933 and 1936. State voters, however, defeated two initiatives to raise fuel taxes in 1938. World War II disrupted road construction state- and nationwide. 
An increase in motor vehicle ownership accompanied the better road conditions. The modes of transportation in the Current homeland was a diverse mixture during the 1920s. People walked and traveled by horse, mule, team and wagon, johnboat, river ferries, railroad, automobiles and trucks. Between 1920 and 1940, automobile and truck ownership increased dramaticly across the region. In 1940, the number of persons per vehicle were 6.82 in Carter County and 6.63 in Shannon County. In the same year, the statewide number of persons per vehicle was 4.10. These figures marked a convergence in the number of automobiles per capita in the rugged Ozark hills and in Missouri overall. 
Missouri founded its first parks at the height of the national state park movement in the early twentieth century. The creation of state parks out of natural areas began nationwide in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1864, California created the first state park from the Yosemite valley wilderness that the federal government donated to the state for this purpose. The state of Wisconsin founded the first state park system in 1907.  Yet the rise of state parks did not blossom into a national phenomenon until the 1920s when their numbers multiplied rapidly. In 1930, two thirds of the existing state parks and forest reserves were established in the previous decade.  The state of Missouri created a park program in 1919 and added the management of the program to the duties of the State Game and Fish Commission. Several years passed before the first parks were created in 1924 and 1925. Eight parks, totaling 23,224 acres, were established, and all of these were located in the Ozarks. Their development corresponded with the post-World War I highway construction. An Annual Report of the State Game and Fish Commissioner noted the importance of the expanding highway system in a summary of major factors contributing to the Ozarks location of the parks:
Three of the first parksBig Spring, Alley Spring, and Round Spring State Parkswere on the Current and Jacks Fork riverways.
Round Spring was the first park established. It had the backing of two of Shannon County's most influential state politicians, Representative David Bales and Senator S. A. Cunningham. Both men lived in Eminence. Senator Cunningham, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the General Assembly, promoted the creation of state parks throughout Shannon County.  In 1924, Representative Bales helped to organize a Fourth of July picnic that a number of state dignitaries, including the gubernatorial candidates, attended. Four committees, composed of about thirty leading promoters of the southeast Ozarks, planned the celebration and succeeded in turning it into a major political event. The organizers billed the picnic as a dedication of the new highway bridge under construction at Round Spring, and surrounding families participated by providing basket dinners for the guests. The regional leaders, however, intended the affair as a promotion of the site as a state park and, two months later, the state created a seventy-five-acre Round Spring State Park. Reflecting the traditional goals of the Game and Fish Commission, the state defined the new park as both a scenic attraction and a fish hatchery. 
Two separate groups led the negotiations over the creation of a state park at Alley. One initiative came from the owners of the spring and mill site, Conrad Hug and the Crystal Spring Town-site Company, and the other emanated from the members of the Shannon County Hunting and Fishing Club. Historian Robert Flanders noted that the strong desire of the latter group to conserve the Current and Jacks Forks environment distinguished it from the other state park promoters. The Hunting and Fishing Club park advocates proposed an innovative idea, the creation of a riverine park along the Jacks Fork, that decades later resurfaced with the establishment of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. 
A dentist, Dr. H. Kirkendall of Birch Tree, represented the Shannon County Hunting and Fishing Club faction in a series of letters to the governor and the game and fish commissioner about establishing a park along the Jacks Fork that would include Alley. In 1922, he first contacted Governor Arthur M. Hyde and boasted that as much as 45,000 to 60,000 acres of land could be assembled for a park on the Jacks Fork River. The governor responded that the legislature was not yet prepared to act on the state park issue. The correspondence resumed after the establishment of a commission to select park sites and the 1924 appointment of Frank H. Wielandy as Game and Fish Commissioner. In his letters, Kirkendall suggested that 20,000 acres could be bought for around $125,000 and, at one point in August 1924, he said that an owner of 4700 acres was willing to sell for $25,000. He explained, however, that these proposals did not include the cost of Alley, which would run higher per acre, and wrote with some urgency that a lumber company was also looking into the property. The state officials expressed an interest and even met the Birch Tree people for a tour of Alley, but they never committed to a purchase. Kirkendall was uninformed of the state's negotiations with the Crystal Spring owners of Alley until June 1924. At that time, Conrad Hug quoted a price of $35,000 for Alley. 
The fiscal agent of the Crystal Spring Town-site Company, Ralph E. Carr of Eminence, contacted the governor just before the Kirkendall correspondence in December 1922. He offered the state an option to buy Alley and an additional 4,000 acres at a cost between $90,000 and $100,000. Carr said that the site would be a fine fish and game reserve as well as a park. The following spring, Conrad Hug pressed the issue of Alley in a letter to Governor Hyde:
The governor replied that such decisions would have to be approved by a "large committee appointed by the legislature." 
The negotiations between the Crystal Spring faction and the state also intensified after the appointment of Wielandy as Game and Fish Commissioner and after the governor visited Alley with the Birch Tree promoters. Ralph Carr heard of the governor's visit and also of the governor's interest in purchasing the site if Hug would accept a "more reasonable price" from Mac Ellerman, the overseer of the Alley property. By the end of the year, Crystal Spring and the state agreed to a purchase price of $31,500 for Alley, and the mill hamlet became Alley Spring State Park. The park contained 427 acres and, in 1925, the annual report of the Game and Fish Commission described it as a great camping, fishing, and picnicking attraction. The report failed to mention anything about the mill or the history of the hamlet. As Flanders noted the establishment of Alley Spring State Park represented a victory for area politicians such as state Representative Bales and state Senator Carter Buford of Reynolds County who promoted the big springs as park sites rather than riverine concept of the Shannon County Hunting and Fishing Club. 
Local political figures and officials of area chambers of commerce spearheaded much of the effort to establish the Ozark parks. The case of Big Spring demonstrated how these two interests were often indistinguishable. Fred E. McGhee, the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce in Van Buren and the clerk of the Carter County Circuit Court, engaged the state game and fish commissioner, Frank Wielandy, in a series of letters promoting the Big Spring location as a state park. The Van Buren booster lauded the scenic beauty and suggested that a fish hatchery would be feasible at the site. Other local promoters commented on the access to the locale from the Frisco railway near Van Buren and noted that they were "getting good roads."  Boasting of the area's wildlife, McGhee wrote that a park there would do much to encourage adherence to the game and fish laws among the local population. He and other county courthouse officials assembled options to buy land from various owners to expedite the creation of a park. Another McGhee, James M. McGhee, was a land agent for 5,000 acres in the vicinity of Big Spring. An influential county leader, Dr. T. W. Cotton owned a house and land near Big Spring and helped to obtain the options. He also served as the Deputy State Health Commissioner and had considerable political influence at the state level. In an August 1924 letter, Dr. Cotton told the state Game and Fish Commissioner that "the Court House boys" had assembled a block of about 3,000 acres and would work to get 5,000 committed in order to give the state some flexibility on the amount of land it might want. 
At the end of 1924, the state established the Big Spring State Park with 4,258 acres. The park, the third largest in the state system at the time, functioned both as a game refuge and recreation area. During the first year of operation, its facilities included a campground, bathhouse, and other "conveniences." In 1925, the Game and Fish Commission claimed that thousands of visitors enjoyed the park in the past year. 
Cultural differences between the tourist and uplander populations inspired significant conflict and tension that chilled many Ozarkers' interest in tourism and, at times, open hostility surfaced. Differences in the work and leisure customs of the vacationing middle-class city dwellers and those of the hill families of the Current River underscored this tension. Early contacts between touring urbanites and the uplanders generally resulted in the city-folk being aghast at living conditions in the Ozarks. It was during this post World War I period that middle-class urbanites popularized the "hillbilly" stereotype that insulted the uplanders customs and traditions. The Ozarkers, in turn, resented the intruders who often trampled fields and fished and hunted on the uplander's land without permission. 
Ozark boosters tried to diminish the cultural gap between the local people and the vacationers. The Eminence newspaper, the Current Wave, schooled its readers on how to ready themselves for the coming tourist boom. The newspaper, in what Robert Flanders called its typical "paternalistic, didactic, and admonitory" way, offered a list of twenty-one dos and don'ts that ranged from cleaning up the general appearance of home sites, especially those along the main roads, to being courteous and helpful to tourists in need of assistance. Local citizens were instructed to "discard old rail fences entirely" and were told to trim trees and hedges near their houses and roads. The Wave also wanted the people to keep "cats, dogs, chickens, hogs, and children" off the roads.  The public dedication of the new bridge on Route 16 at Van Buren and the Big Spring State Park prompted Fred McGhee, now president of the Carter County Chamber of Commerce, to publish an article in the The Current Local that called on the county to "meet the test of her hospitality in the proper manner."  McGhee asked the families of Carter County and the surrounding area to bring basket lunches to feed the dignitaries and visitors at the event.
The celebration of the new bridge and park on July 17, 1926 marked the beginning of a new era of increased government intervention and tourist consciousness in the Current valley and southeast Ozark region. Representing the newly established Missouri Ozarks Chamber of Commerce, Anthony A. Buford of Ellington organized the affair. Missouri newspapers widely publicized the event in the week before dedication. The Columbia Missourian noted that, along with the new Governor of Missouri Sam A. Baker, the list of speakers included R. Fullerton Place, former President of the St. Louis Advertising Club. State highway and park officials were listed among the speakers. The St. Louis advertiser and several public officials also attended an executive meeting of the Ozarks Chamber of Commerce held at Big Spring after the picnic lunch. Describing the crowd as the largest ever to assemble at Van Buren, local reports of the event estimated 8 to 10 thousand people attended and watched the ribbon cutting and the parade of motor cars cross the new bridge. 
The completion of the bridge was a major event for Van Buren and the southeast Ozarks. Excluding the construction of a pontoon bridge by Union troops during the Civil War, two previous bridges had been built and washed out at Van Buren. The second of these structures was built in 1909 but gave way during a 1915 flood. The voters of Carter County adopted a $15,000 bond to rebuild the bridge, using some parts of the old structure, and it spanned the Current until the completion of the 1926 bridge. For a time, the old and new bridges stood side by side until the former was torn down. The bridge was part of the principal east-west highway across southern Missouri and became part of U. S. Highway 60 during the early 1930s.  Most of the Ozark roads remained rough, especially off the main highways, and the tourist industry evolved gradually before World War II.
In 1926 and 1927, the state began altering the landscape at Alley, Round Spring, and Big Spring. The changes at Alley included the demolition of the store, with the town-like facade, the blacksmith shop, and the spring house and the construction of a new "rustic" store sided with native pine. The 1926 annual report of the Game and Fish Commissioner said that the demolished structures had "greatly marred the splendor of the spring and spring branch." Much of the development focused on the spring branch where the state created a swimming hole with a beach and beach house. In 1927, a new gravel road through the park led to a new rustic bridge across the spring branch. At Big Spring, the major developments were a bridal path and a "scenic drive" up the bluff above the spring. Frequent flooding limited the development of Big Spring.  At Round Spring, the state built two foot bridges over the spring branch and fenced in the picnic grounds to make them "stock proof." In the mid 1920s, a thriving hill community of one hundred or more families lived around the Round Spring area. 
Flooding in June 1928, damaged the facilities at Big Spring, Alley Spring, and Round Spring and lowered the number of tourist visits. Most of the picnic and camp grounds of Big Spring and the road leading to them were under water. The flood destroyed two bridges, although a ninety-eight-foot bridge constructed the previous spring survived. After the flooding, a group of "interested citizens" built a new road to the park that went over a mountain and only came near the river at the entrance to the park. The Game and Fish Commission believed that difficulty in keeping a road open to the park would continue until a "properly constructed ridge road" was built. Farther upstream, flooding on the Jacks Fork destroyed the new store and four bridges at Alley Spring State Park. The surging high water also changed the flow of the spring branch and left tons of rocks and debris across the picnic and camping area. At Round Spring State Park, the flood washed away a bathhouse and some small buildings. 
The State Game and Fish Commission cut back its park operations in 1929 because of a decline in revenue, but in 1930 the development of the Current River parks resumed. New park keepers' houses were built or reconstructed at all three parks. The state also rebuilt a store at Round Spring. More work was performed at Big Spring, where new construction included a concession stand and shelter house, zoo, and vehicle and foot bridges over the spring branch. Electric wires were strung from Van Buren to the park and a well was dug. After 1930 as the Great Depression set in, little work was done on the parks until the extension of federal aid. 
After 1932, the federal government intervened in state park development. Missouri parks underwent intensive development with the assistance of the federal New Deal program known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In 1933, the National Park Service established Civilian Conservation Corps camps of mostly young men at both Alley Spring and Big Spring state parks. During the first year at Alley, the CCC workers built eleven buildings and two roads through the park. The CCC workers at Big Spring completed even more extensive work on the park's infrastructure. They built four and one-half miles of gravel road from the spring to the boundary of Big Spring State Park and another eight miles of road throughout the park. An access road was also laid out from the highway to the CCC camp. They fitted a pump in the spring to provide the CCC camp and the public campgrounds with water. They hung a telephone line from the refuge to the spring. They also removed debris and cleared a two hundred acres picnic and recreation area near the spring and another twelve acres for new campgrounds.  Between 1934 and 1937, the Big Spring CCC workers greatly expanded the facilities of the state park. They built a flood control dike system, a latrine, a picnic shelter, three cabins, a garage, and a custodian's home. The workers laid out a trail along the cliff to the back of the spring that blended in with the natural environment. They also built a stone ledge wall in the spring branch to stop animals from entering. In 1936, a dining lodge, a walled entrance station, and parking lot were under construction. The buildings featured the rustic style of architecture popularized by the National Park Service. They were made with local materials, especially rough-cut limestone quarried nearby and timber and lumber stained dark-brown. 
The federal assistance produced more than new park facilities and jobs for young men. It also resulted in limitations to the state's authority, as federal regulation accompanied the federal aid. In the spring of 1933, the National Park Service created district offices to provide oversight and technical support to park and conservation work in the various states. Missouri fell within the purview of a district office which was initially headquartered in Indianapolis. The district offices assisted states in drafting legislation for planning, development, and maintenance of their parks. The states administered the camps with funds allocated by the federal government, and project superintendents and technical supervisors were on the federal payroll. In addition, federal inspectors regularly visited the state CCC camps and discouraged developments that would damage the natural environment. If the states did not follow federal conservation principles in developing parks in wilderness areas, then the National Park Service threatened to remove the CCC camps. 
The Missouri Game and Fish Commission adopted the National Park Service's preservation focus. Before the federal involvement, the state of Missouri funded the parks from hunting and fishing license fees and managed them as game refuges and fishing hatcheries. The emphasis of the Game and Fish Commission was to provide wildlife for sportsmen. Operating the parks as nature retreats for vacationists was a secondary objective. In contrast, National Park Service policies emphasized preserving wilderness from human exploitation, not protecting game for hunters. The Park Service also placed more significance on recreation for vacationists than had the Missouri Game and Fish Commission. In a 1933 annual report, the state Game and Fish Commissioner acknowledged the importance of the federal aid to state park development and recognized the federal park mission. The report stated:
It went on to recognize the inadequacy of funding state parks with 25 percent of the hunting and fishing licensing fees. The state adopted the National Park Service idea of one controlled entrance to the parks, and the state began charging a small admission fee. 
The breadth of new federal conservation programs precipitated a reorganization of Missouri's recreation and wildlife program. The state's collaboration with such federal agencies as the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Biological Survey, Soil Conservation and Resettlement Service, Public Works Administration, and Works Progress Administration rendered the existing state park bureaucracy inadequate. In 1936, the Missouri legislature replaced the Game and Fish Commission with a Conservation Commission. The new agency, however, primarily focused on forest restoration and regulation and on soil conservation. It separated the management of the state forest and the state parks without providing an appropriate entity for overseeing the latter. In 1939, the state issued a report "Confidential Supplement to the Missouri Summary Park ReportJanuary 1939," warning that the reorganization had placed the management of the state parks in a legal limbo. Missouri established a new State Park Board to operate the twenty state parks. 
Along with the public park movement, a host of private initiatives furthered the popularity and development of the Current River as a nature retreat for recreationists. Private pleasure resorts were built all along the river. In the 1920s and 1930s, Marian Rymer of Birch Tree managed Rymer's Rustic Ranch on the Jacks Fork River. The resort ranch sported a variety of recreational activities ranging from fishing, boating, and horseback riding to music and dancing. Rymer catered to a small circle of St. Louis friends even though she marketed the resort to the general public. Other resorts included Welch Spring resort, first developed circa 1920 and the Alton Club, founded in the 1930s. The former development briefly centered around a health spa. Dr. C. H. Diehl of Roxanna, Illinois, purchased the spring and cave site, lying upstream from Akers in Shannon County, and built a nature hospital out of the Welch Cave for asthma patients. He believed that the cool damp mineral air of the cave would benefit asthmatics. The hospital and picnic ground, which Diehl also tried to develop, never supported themselves. In 1933, after the doctor's death, the property was sold by the county at a tax sale to a St. Louis group that built a recreation resort. Incorporated as Welch Cave, Inc., the business investors constructed a lodge and dammed the spring to create several fishing pools which were then stocked with trout. Forty-five families eventually leased the property and shared it as a weekend retreat. 
Local entrepreneurs organized businesses to outfit and guide boating excursions after the establishment of the state parks. In 1928, Walter Bales, the son of State Representative David Bales, opened a johnboat float guiding business in conjunction with his store in Eminence. Reflecting the increasing trade of sportsmen and women at his store, he enlarged his business into the Bales Boating and Mercantile Company and began outfitting float trips for fishing groups. Bales ordered a dozen well-built johnboats, assembled a store of camping gear, and trained river guides to lead "deluxe float trips" that became popular among "urban business leaders and their political allies."  In Stars Upstream, Leonard Hall recalled his friendship with Bales and the evolution of this pioneer outfitter's conservation consciousness. During the 1930s, Walter Bales and his guides began to believe that "a fish in the stream has a value equal to or greater than one . . . on the stringer." Bales personally switched from fishing with "bait-casting rods" to fly fishing with a single hook so that he could return some of his catch to the stream unharmed. 
Other outfitting operations also developed. A number of guides began their own businesses after working for Bales. One of the top commissary guides for Bales, Garland Winterbottom, began a float trip service in Eminence that Walter Martin, another Bales trainee, took over after Winterbottom's death. In Van Buren, Dick Moore and Dwight Terry established a guide service in the 1920s. 
Most operations used wooden johnboats on the Current between 1920 and 1950. During the late 1920s and 1930s, the johnboats were relatively inexpensive to build. As a result some fishing parties purchased boats from outfitters and abandoned the crafts after floating downstream. This habit led to friction between outfitters. A Van Buren operator began using the boats left by floaters. One Cedargrove boat builder tried to charge the downstream outfitter for the boats and, when the latter refused to pay, guides from up river began knocking holes in boats left at Van Buren.  The service of the river guides and outfitters peaked in the 1950s when about sixteen guides operated out of Van Buren alone. By this time, a number of rivermen, such as "Smilin'" Willie Parks, emerged as colorful folk figures very much in demand by renowned political, business, and cultural leaders who frequented the Current. 
The promotion of the tourist potential of the southeast Missouri Ozarks also accompanied the opening of the state parks. In 1926, Missouri business and sporting interests organized the Outdoor Life Exposition in St. Louis to promote the recreational value of the Ozarks. The Missouri Ozarks Chamber of Commerce produced a display on the "Big Springs Country." State Representative David Bales headed the advertising committee for the Exposition. Four years later, the president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, W. B. Weisenberger, called on St. Louis leaders to lobby the federal government for the establishment of a national park in the Ozarks.  No substantial action followed his plea. Popular magazines, such as the Missouri and Arcadian Magazine also touted the region and its various vacation spots. An advertisement in a 1931 edition of the Arcadian Magazine illustrated the tone of the promotion:
The list of contacts included centers of local information such as the Van Buren newspaper and the local barber shop.  These advertisements frequently paired tourism and real estate sales.
Despite the state park development, the 1930s were a desperate time in the Ozarks. The travel journals of Reverend Paul Wobus touch briefly on the difficult conditions of many families in the upper Current communities in which he traveled. In the years before the federal New Deal programs, Reverend Wobus transported voluntary relief goods and tried to develop domestic industry. At the community around Akers, during the fall of 1930, he introduced an idea of reviving "fireside industries" and asked an assembly of the community at church services about the availability of handlooms. One member of the neighborhood, a Mr. Riley of Dooley Hollow, told Wobus he knew how to use a loom and had one at home, but the congregation only knew of one other person who also had a loom. The reverend brought much needed canned goods and other foodstuffs, supplied by the Golden Rule Foundation, into the area. Yet he experienced some problems in distributing it. In this proud and customarily self-sufficient community, he found the people reticent about identifying those in need of the donations. The bootleggers in the area seemed to have mixed feelings about the minister's activities. This upper Current territory had been a haven for whiskey running, and Akers was a former landing spot for moonshiners. Moreover, after he chose to leave the food at the home of one of the Aker families, different persons in the community warned him that no one would go there or to anyone else's house for charity. The reverend, however, continued to bring food. The uplanders responded more positively to Wobus loaning them seed corn which they arranged to pay back with one-fiftieth of their crop. This included a donation for the community church. 
Increasing government intervention brought relief and ultimately began the restoration of the natural resources along the Current while changing many lives in the process. The dismal conditions in the Current and across the Ozarks forced many families to accept relief. In 1933, the relief rolls of the Ozark counties were higher than those of any other rural counties in the state. Severe droughts further worsened the economy. Thousands of men landed work with the CCC and WPA camps described previously. 
As historian James Murphy demonstrated, some prosperity returned to the Ozark region between 1940 and 1970. Rising tourism contributed to the trend. Yet the restoration of the forest laid the foundation of the improved economy. This effort also involved large-scale federal and state government intervention. In the United States, the creation of national forest reserves designed to conserve timber resources began in the 1890s. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt designated the first federal forest in the Ozarks, the Ozark National Forest, in the state of Arkansas. The Weeks Act of 1911 empowered the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to buy private land for inclusion in national forests and opened the way for the creation of national forests in states like Missouri with little federally owned land. The development of the first national forest in Missouri, however, came out of the crisis atmosphere of the deepening depression of the 1930s. At first, the idea of turning private land into a public forest faced considerable opposition in Missouri and much of the Ozarks. A strong libertarian spirit persisted in the twentieth century Ozarks and resisted the expansion of government control. In 1929, the Missouri legislature restricted the number of acres that the U.S. Forest Service could purchase to 2,000 in any one county and delayed the establishment of a national forest. 
Leading Ozark boosters, especially the Missouri Ozarks Chamber of Commerce and State Senator Carter Buford, worked to change public opinion in the Ozark highlands and to remove the legislative restriction. Much of the regional support initially stemmed from the communities of Ellington in Reynolds County and Salem in Dent County. Not all of the Ozark political leaders favored lifting the land restrictions on the size of national forests. State Senator Bales of Shannon County, the active promoter of the state park system, feared that federal ownership of large sections of land would undermine the local tax base. Many opponents in the Ozarks believed that large federal forest would eliminate such traditional land use practices as spring burnings and open-range grazing. Senator Buford, however, recognized the economic benefit of restoring the forest. 
The increasing poverty of the Depression years in the Ozarks resulted in growing support for a national forest and the federal employment programs that would accompany their creation. Between 1930 and 1934, a series of state legislative bills loosened the restrictions on the amount of land available for a national forest. In 1933, the state government endorsed Congressional actions led by U.S. Senator Bennett Champ Clark of Missouri and Representative Clyde Williams of Hillsboro to form the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. Because of Missouri's new restrictions, the forest was created with two sections: the Clark unit had 125,000 acres, combining five 25,000-acre plots from Crawford, Washington, Dent, Iron, and Reynolds Counties and the Frisco unit had 100,000 acres, combining land from Shannon, Carter, Oregon and Ripley Counties.  In 1934, the state increased the county maximum forest acreage to 100,000 and the size of the national forest in Missouri quickly grew to 1,500,000 acres. Soon thereafter, state Senator L. N. Searcy of Eminence led the drive to eliminate the restrictions completely and, by the end of 1935, the national forest acreage increased to more than 3,000,000. In Carter County, 44 percent of the land was national forest. Ripley and Shannon counties had 35 and 19 percent of their total acreage in national forest respectively. 
The establishment of the national forest did bring jobs and money into the Ozarks. The U.S. Forest Service established CCC camps of young workers in the forests at Bunker, Winona, Bradley, and Hendrickson. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) also employed mostly older men in the forest. In Reynolds County, for example, the WPA had 10,000 forest workers. The CCC and WPA camps built roads, planted trees, improved habitat for wildlife, and performed many conservation tasks. The Forest Service also built recreation areas such as Loggers Lake, developed in 1940 from a Bunker-Culler lumber campsite in upper Shannon County. 
The issue of dams on the Current and its tributaries embroiled another federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in heated debates over the development of the river basin. Before the deepening of the Great Depression, private power companies, seeking to tap the hydroelectric and recreation potential of the Ozarks' rivers and streams, controlled most of the dam development in the region. On the Current, in 1912, the Crystal Spring Town-site Company had plans to produce electricity at Alley Spring and, in 1918, a separate private power firm performed the first engineering surveys along the Current. Neither initiative resulted in damming the river for commercial power purposes. The issue rose to the forefront of state and local politics after 1930. Following the development of the Lake of the Ozarks for hydroelectric energy between 1929 and 1931, State Senator David Bales expressed concern over the liberal licensing practices of the Federal Power Commission. In 1933, Senator Bales sponsored a bill requiring the state to review the licensing of private power companies after the Federal Power Commission licensed the Kansas City Power Company to survey the possibility of building three dams on the Currentat Blair Creek, above Van Buren, and above Doniphan. The measure had little impact on restricting the licensing procedure. The continuing economic depression, however, eliminated the feasibility of private dam construction. Reflecting the depressed economy, the Federal Power Commission rejected the Kansas City company's proposal to build a dam on the Current because of inadequate financing. In the 1930s, Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to develop fifty dams in the state. 
The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) supported the Corps' damming projects to provide hydroelectric power. Established in 1935, the REA brought electricity to the rural Ozarks after the establishment of the Ozark Border Electric Cooperative in 1938. The electrification of the southeastern Ozarks of Missouri began with the Ozark Border Electric Cooperative raising its first pole in Ellsinore, Missouri.  Electrification brought many welcomed conveniences to the Ozark uplanders and new gadgets such as the radio. One Ozark scholar noted that radio brought the uplanders persistent contact with mass popular culture and accelerated the erosion of traditional folk entertainment and even speech patterns. 
Between 1930 and 1960, conservationists and local opponents of the Corps' dams devised their strategies to preserve the Current as a free-flowing river at the Rose Cliff Hotel, a popular gathering spot for Missouri conservationists. Dr. Robert Davis of Birch Tree built the Rose Cliff Hotel at Van Buren during 1927-1929. Overlooking the Current across the bridge from Van Buren, it was the largest inn along the river. In the early 1930s, Missouri scientists and journalists dubbed Rose Cliff the "Athens of the Ozarks." Foresters working out the boundaries of the Mark Twain National Forest stayed at the hotel. Two influential wildlife scientists, Dr. Rudolf Bennitt and Werner Nagel, lived there while performing research for their study on Missouri wildlife that made a notable contribution to the founding of the Missouri Conservation Commission in 1936.  In 1934, Harry S Truman used the place as a campaign headquarters during his run for the U.S. Senate and frequently returned after his election to enjoy Big Spring and the Ozark scenery. The hotel became a favorite "hangout" of writers from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Moreover, a number of naturalists produced important literary works on Missouri's natural values while staying at the Rose Cliff for varying lengths of time. Thad Snow wrote From Missouri while living at the Rose Cliff; Botanist Julian Styermark assembled material for his many works, such as Vegetational History of the Ozark Forest, there; and Leonard Hall worked on his influential Stars Upstream during various trips to the hotel. The manager of the Rose Cliff, Ben Davis, encouraged the traffic of conservation authors at the inn and became an avid conservationist with considerable knowledge of the Current River environment. With the threat of the Corps' damming the Current after 1930, conservation leaders, in and out of Missouri state government, joined with local leaders at the Rose Cliff to develop their conservation platform against the river's impoundment. 
In the 1941, the Corps constructed the Wappapello Dam on the St. Francis River in the southeast Ozarks and turned its sights toward the Current. A team of army engineers from Little Rock, Arkansas, developed plans for two dams on the Current. The plans called for a 107-foot-high dam at Blair Creek and a larger dam at Doniphan. The Second World War, however, delayed further development by the Corps. 
During and after the war, a number of Ozark interest groups rallied opposition to the proposed dams. The Current Chapter of the Ozark Protective Association, the Missouri Farmers Association, the Conservation Federation, and the state's Missouri Conservation Commission called on the state politicians to reconsider the consequences of turning the Current River into a reservoir. In 1949, Missouri Governor Forrest Smith issued a strong statement against the projects:
The opponents further argued that the dams on the Current would have little, if any, impact on the flood levels of the White or Mississippi Rivers, and that the river's flow would not produce an efficient electrical power source. They also explained that the soil erosion in the cut-over timber lands would fill the reservoir with silt. 
Even within the Corps bureaucracy, opposition to the dams surfaced. General John Kingman, a top Corps administrator in the Washington office of the engineers, took an official stance against the projects. His interest in the Current came through contact with a first cousin, Sam Gay. A Chicago businessmen and native Ozarker, Gay made frequent recreational trips to the Ozarks with Kingman from the mid-1920s through the time of the debate over the Current dams. Gay had a cabin by Panther Spring on the river and frequented the Rose Cliff Hotel where he became associated with Leonard Hall and other conservation leaders. In 1950, as opposition mounted, the Corps withdrew its plans to dam the Current. 
During the 1950s, federal and state authorities made plans to perpetuate the Current River as a free-flowing stream. In 1954, an Arkansas-White-Red River Basins Inter-Agency Committee report included a proposal of the Governor of Missouri that the Current River remain free-flowing and that the federal and state governments develop the recreational potential and protect the natural resources of the Current valley. Two years later, the Missouri Division of Resources and Development, in collaboration with the Missouri Conservation Commission, the Missouri State Park Board, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service (NPS), issued a report calling for the creation of a national recreation area for the Current, Jacks Fork, and Eleven Point rivers. After an Ozark group repetitioned the Corps to resume the plans to dam the Current, in 1959, the Missouri legislature passed a resolution that supported the creation of the national recreation area. The U.S. Senators from Missouri, Thomas C. Hennings and Stuart Symington, arranged and attended a meeting in Washington between officials of the state and of the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Missouri Governor James T. Blair, Jr., attended the discussion. Following this meeting, Congress appropriated funds for a 1960 National Park Service study entitled "Proposed Ozark Rivers National Monument" that investigated the possibility of designating the Current, Jacks Fork and Eleven Point rivers as a unit of the National Park System. 
The regional coalition that battled the Corps and supported maintaining the Current as a free-flowing river disintegrated over disagreements concerning how to implement the preservation of the stream. The original 1956 report on the national recreation area called for the "eventual elimination of all private land use" along the river. The National Park Service quickly lost the support of most landowners adjacent to the Current. Two basic factions arose in Missouri to contest the method of preserving the river. A preservation-recreation group supported National Park Service management of the Current, Jacks Fork and Eleven Point rivers. They emphasized the preservation of the natural values of the riverways and promoted increased tourism as the major economic benefit of the management plan. Missouri's conservation leaders, the mayors and chambers of commerce of Eminence and Van Buren, and the governor of Missouri supported the Park Service option. Conservationist Leonard Hall helped to form the Ozark National Rivers Association among local supporters. A multiple-use faction opposed the National Park Service and favored management by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). This group wanted the Forest Service to develop the recreation facilities on the rivers and, in particular, supported the USFS regulation of private farm and timber lands with scenic easements rather than outright purchase or expropriation. Leo A. Drey of St. Louis, who was the largest landowner along the rivers, represented the commercial timber interests. Drey, local landowners, and other National Park Service opponents formed Current-Eleven Point Rivers Association. The Missouri Conservation Commission also criticized the initial NPS plan but soon came out in active support of the Park Service. The issue bitterly divided the people of the Current homeland, such as in Eminence and Van Buren where the county officials opposed the NPS plan because they feared the loss of property tax revenues. 
In Washington, between 1960 and 1964, Missouri Congressmen introduced several bills designed to preserve the Ozark riverways. Representative Thomas B. Curtis sponsored a 1960 bill for the creation of a national monument and triggered debate on the issue in Congress. In 1961, Senators Stuart Symington and Edward Long and Representative Richard H. Ichord presented identical bills to the Senate and House that authorized National Park Service management of the rivers. The bills allowed regulated hunting and provided for life estates for homeowners within the monument's boundaries. The National Park Service opposed the hunting clause. Congressman Curtis also introduced a bill in 1961, but his version featured the multiple-use ideology and management by the U.S. Forest Service. It also defined scenic easements as a method of preserving the natural scenery of the riverway without infringing on private property. None of the bills left committee. 
A push to further the legislation came in 1962 after Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall visited the Current River and when President John F. Kennedy endorsed the Ozark National Monument. Congressman Ichord invited Secretary Udall to float the Current and, in September 1961, Udall went down the river with conservationist Leonard Hall, National Park Service officials, and a number of Ichord's constituents. The secretary enthusiastically endorsed bringing the riverways into the National Park System after the trip despite the many signs of opposition that he encountered in the southeast Ozarks. In March 1962, President Kennedy gave Congress his "Message on Conservation." A major statement on conservation and recreation, the presidential message announced Kennedy's plan to create a Bureau of Outdoor Recreation advocated the establishment of a Land Conservation Fund (the future Land and Water Conservation Fund), and supported nine new national park proposals. The Ozark National Monument was one of the new parks that the president identified. In June 1962, a U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands visited the Current River region and also floated the river with a host of Missouri politicians, conservation leaders, local dignitaries, and National Park Service officials. The Senate subcommittee held a hearing at Big Spring State Park after a picnic. The hearing sparked "heated" denouncements by residents, but the river experience impressed the Congressmen. That same spring, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas also publicized the natural and recreational values of free-flowing Ozark rivers during a float trip down the Buffalo River in Arkansas. At the time, the Congressional representative from the Buffalo River district opposed turning that river into a federal park, and Congress did not create the second Ozark river park, the Buffalo National River, until 1972. 
In 1963, Missouri's Congressional delegation united in support of a much-revised bill that proposed creating an Ozark National River Park. Responding to the major critics of Park Service management, the new legislation provided for scenic easements and approved hunting and fishing based on Missouri state regulations. This time the National Park Service accepted the fish and game provisions. The Department of Agriculture supported both the 1961 and 1963 national park bills despite the objections of its bureau, the U.S. Forest Service. To avert the most severe criticism, the bills dropped the lower Current and Eleven Point River from the National River. The Eleven Point River contained three-fourths of the Forest Service lands that would have been taken over by the Park Service. The lower Current contained the richest farm land in the valley and its farmers presented the most solid block of opposing local landowners. Following Congressional approval in August 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation founding the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (the House Rules Committee changed the name), and created a new type of riverine national park out of the Current River homeland. Four years later Congress passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in which the Eleven Point was designated one of the new scenic rivers and remained under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. 
The establishment of state parks, new roads, rural electrification, national forests and national parks promoted increasing contact between the riverways and modern society. Yet the complex consequences of government intervention not only altered the Current homeland, but worked to restore and preserve many of its natural and cultural resources. At the beginning of the 1930s, the natural and economic resources of the Current riverway were at a low point. The timber was depleted; the soil was worn and eroding; the wildlife population was thin; and, during this prohibition era, one of the leading cash industries was distilling corn whiskey and bootlegging. The depressed conditions drove thousands of people away from the rugged southeast Ozark hills during the twenties but, when the Great Depression hit the industrial economy of the cities, many returned home and put added pressures on the impoverished land.  During the 1930s, the population of Carter County increased from 5,503 to 6,226 and that of Shannon County went from 10,894 to 11,831. In a five-county region, the number of farms increased by 15 percent, but corn production fell 50 percent, and the overall value of farm production fell $2.5 million. 
The survival pattern of Shannon County resident Walter Carr illustrated the uncertainty that pervaded Ozark life during the Depression, the uplander's strong identification with the Ozarks as a homeland, and the role of government as an increasing force in the region's development. Born in Ellington, Missouri, in 1909, Carr grew up in Eminence and West Eminence, where his father worked in the lumber industry. In about 1917, he and his family moved to Spring Valley where his father operated his own tie business. The elder Carr purchased land near Round Spring in 1920, operated a sawmill, and eventually built the Round Spring store. In 1928, he sold the store and, two years later, the new owners moved the store closer to the new State Highway 19. Walter Carr married in 1930 and settled on a farm near his family. In the winter of 1930-1931, he went to Wyoming but returned home in the spring. He farmed the land by Round Spring until the 1934 drought and then moved to East St. Louis, Illinois, to work one winter in the Swift Company packing plant. In 1935, he again returned to the farm and worked it until another drought sent him looking for work in Illinois the following year. He took a job with the American Car and Foundry Company in Madison, Illinois, but went back to the farm after losing the job with the worsening of the Depression. In 1938, he received a bank loan and bought the former family store at Round Spring. Finally, in 1941 he became the superintendent of the Round Spring State Park until he lost this position after a new administration came in power in Jefferson City in 1944. 
A population decline accompanied the rising federal intervention and helped to restore much of the area's natural resources and their economic viability. The number of people in Carter County dropped steadily from 6,226 in 1940 to 4,777 in 1950 and to 3,973 in 1960. Shannon County experienced a similar trend and from 1940 to 1960 its population went from 11,831 to 7,087. In a five-county region of the southeastern Ozarks, including the two counties above, the population fell from 53,423 to 35,162. Yet, statewide, the population of Missouri rose from 3,784,664 people in 1940 to 4,319,813 in 1960. A number of factors pulled people away from the homeland. World War II and the urban jobs created by the war effort drew many people to the cities. Moreover, the U.S. Forest Service moved many people, as the rate of population decline was fastest in those townships within the new national forests. The falling populations and Forest Service management of the forest improved the growth rate and the quality of the timber. By 1968, a growing local timber industry was harvesting 50,000 acres a year in the national forest. 
The regulation of annual burning contributed to the reforestation process. The Forest Service initiated a fire prevention program that eventually became accepted by much of the local population. The employment and the education programs provided by the U.S. Forest Service helped change public opinion on burnings and the area of forest subjected to annual fires soon dropped from 33 to 1 percent of the forest. 
The closing of the open range presented an even more significant change to the homeland. The drive to close the range in Missouri began in 1890 and came from a number of sources, such as growing urbanization, farm extension programs, the pressures of rising tourism, and a variety of others. In the 1960s, open grazing continued in portions of the Mark Twain National Forest. Despite growing recognition of the agricultural benefits of controlled breeding, the tradition lingered in the Current River homeland until after the establishment of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and the 1969 passage of a state law that removed the local-option stock laws. 
The development of modern recreation involved a give and take between the modern dynamics pushing the different government initiatives and the traditions of the Current River homeland. Modern recreation, however, developed much differently in the Current River valley than it had in other Ozark places like Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and the reservoir lakes of the Missouri Ozarks. The efforts to protect the free-flowing river and to establish a national park centering on the Current River reflected a strong preservation ethos accompanying the development of recreation here. This preservation outlook originated out of a complicated mix of traditional Ozark uplander values and modern environmentalism and, in the late 1950s and 1960s, provided a foundation for the national movement to preserve the Current and Jacks Fork rivers.
Last Updated: 02-Mar-2005