Bryant Creek State Park, located in Douglas County, contains nearly 3,000 acres. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

This story is published in partnership with Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project led by Kaitlyn McConnell.

RURAL DOUGLAS COUNTY – With the clip of a ribbon, a new chapter began for nearly 3,000 acres of rural, wooded land in Douglas County as Bryant Creek State Park officially came into being.

“It’s always an exciting day when we open a state park,” said David Kelly, director of Missouri State Parks, as he welcomed visitors to the ribbon-cutting on Sept. 23. “We’re excited to be able to provide the natural resource stewardship to preserve the high-quality, mature pinewood forest … and forest ecosystems here in the park.”

The public is now welcome to enjoy the park in its first phase, which is currently exclusively day-use. Bryant Creek State Park is about 1.5 hours from Springfield, southeast of Ava. It’s open seven days a week, from dawn to dusk, and features two trails, a vault toilet and finished parking area as well as nearly two miles of Bryant Creek frontage and views of a scenic overlook.

In the future, the park will have two day-use areas with parking, picnic tables, potable water and kiosks providing information and interpretation of the site, as well as a primitive camping area. Visitors will also eventually be able to hike, bike or ride horses on specially marked trails throughout the park.

A few dozen people came to the informational meeting and ribbon cutting for the Douglas County state park. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

The opening represented a moment of triumph for Missouri State Parks beyond the Bryant Creek park’s borders. It’s the first park of a trio announced in 2016 to open, and their purchase — funded by natural resource damage funds received by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for issues in another part of the state — has at times prompted controversy, even leading to time in court over the Eleven Point State Park, which was recently resolved in state parks’ favor.

The sun broke over Bryant Creek’s opening, which was marked with smiles, free water bottles, granola bars and remarks from state parks officials and politicians.

“I’ve raised children here, I married a great guy and family from here,” said State Senator Karla Eslinger for Missouri’s District 33. “Now, what is so awesome is that there’s going to be more and more people that come to our neck of the woods, and they are going to see the beautiful things that we have here. Not just to drive by — but to truly get out of the car and walk around, look at this beautiful area, and see what we need to continue to invest in. That is in protecting places as pristine as this for not only my children, but for the next generation.”

Celebration was in the air as remarks were made: The mission’s accomplished, the land protected and now available to the public in a new way. Ownership of the land will allow for improvements of the forested watershed to help surface and groundwater flow into Bryant Creek, the park’s preamble and mission statement says. Kelly, the state parks director, also spoke to the restoration and rehabilitation for logged areas and the knob-top glades in the area with 940 varieties of plants.

The park’s opening became official with a ribbon cutting. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

The essence of change, however, is that there is a difference. A shift in the way things were.

Perhaps even the tall pine trees sensed that as they seemed to simultaneously waved goodbye to one era and hello to the next.

One of the handful of neighbors who witnessed the moment was Butch Stone. His feet perhaps know the park better than many — maybe all — others today, as they first crossed the land nearly 80 years ago. Save a little time away for military service, he’s lived in the same four-mile radius his entire life.

“This was my hunting grounds. I grew up down this Pike Hollow trail,” he says of the park and one of its walking trails. “That runs right out by the old home place. As the crow flies, it might be two miles straight shot.”

His memories go back to another time when feet — of horses, humans, perhaps a mule, and wildlife — were what traversed the hills and valleys.

“It was open. We used to come up the Pike Hollow with a team and wagon. You could see — there was no underbrush. You could see flowers, burnout, every other year religiously.”

Information about the new state park was available to the public, and officials were on hand to answer questions. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

While the land around his life has remained the same, the world has not. The Ozarks is not as wild and free as it was when Stone was young. The Ozarks is simply not the same place.

It’s impossible to miss the passage of time as Stone stands at the ceremony, a bridge to two versions of Ozarks worlds dissolving into one another. Yet, change comes, and sometimes it’s for the best.

“It’s OK, because I don’t have to worry about a big house overlooking my canyon,” he says of a benefit of having the land’s development controlled.

“It’ll be nice. It’s nice in the long term,” he says. “I lived my time, wild and free.

And, with a laugh, “I can’t help it if I’m obsolete.”

Bryant Creek State Park is open seven days a week from dawn to dusk. For more information, click here.

Kaitlyn McConnell

Kaitlyn McConnell is the founder of Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project through which she has documented the region’s people, places and defining features since 2015. McConnell regularly shares her stories with readers of the Springfield Daily Citizen. Contact her at: kaitlyn@ozarksalive.com More by Kaitlyn McConnell More by Kaitlyn McConnell