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Answer Man: I visited Lost Hill Park and saw a cave with a rock wall built at the entrance. There was a doorway, window and a fireplace, as well as a smooth stone with the inscription “Cozy Cave Club” in the rock wall. I thought this might be an interesting thing for you to look into.
— Megan Forrester, Greene County
Megan sent me three photos, including one of the smooth stone with the words “Cozy Cave Club” gracefully carved into it.
I searched the Springfield News-Leader archives for “Cozy Cave Club,” and found a May 21, 2001, story written by former News-Leader photographer Bob Linder, who also took photos of the cave for his story.
From that story, I know the answer to the history of the “Cozy Cave Club.”
But even though Megan sent me photos, my belief is that I still needed to see the cave firsthand before I wrote about it.
Although Megan is not one of them, there are devious people in this world who love to prank reporters.
Also, I wanted to see the cave because it sounded like fun.
Took Answer Man 3 trips to find the cave
I have been to Lost Hill Park many times to run. The paved trail runs along the South Dry Sac River. I like to think that on good days I’m able to breathe in the beauty of nature when I run.
The park is owned by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. To get there, you take Grant Avenue north, past Hillcrest High School. Grant Avenue becomes Farm Road 151 and the park is on the left.
The Park Board bought 60 acres of the former Owen family dairy farm in 2004 and the park opened in 2010.
Because I’d been to the park before, I had an overblown confidence that I could find the cave with the “Cozy Cave Club” marker.
I first looked Nov. 2.
I was surprised at how many caves I saw — there are a total of eight — but I could not find the one with the magical entrance.
I emailed Megan and she sent me a map. It indicated I need to go up a bluff along the creek — not far from the trailhead.
With the map on my phone, I went back the next day. I was confident, intrepid. I scaled a bluff. I still could not find it.
OK, Megan, can I meet you there?
I stood on top of the cave not knowing it
On Thursday, I met not only Megan but her four children: Oliver, 16; Anabel, 14, Hudson, 11; and Juniper, 3.
They don’t live far from Lost Hill Park. Megan home schools them. Science and nature lessons often involve family treks off beaten paths.
In fact, that’s how she stumbled upon the “Cozy Cave Club” cave.
“I like to go off trail and that definitely was a surprise,” she says.
When we got to the cave I realized that on my second trip I had been very close. In fact, I had stood on top of it without realizing it.
If I were as keen-eyed as Megan — who can spot not only deer tracks but deer poop — I would have noticed at the ledge the top of a chimney extending up from the cave’s interior fire place.
The cave goes back into the hill some 15 yards. A non-NBA-sized adult can stand up in most of the cave.
Unlike the other caves I had seen in the park, there was no sign or placard stating not to enter over fear of spreading white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has killed millions of bats in eastern North America.
This cave is what a child imagines a cave should be. It would have been 12-year-old Steve Pokin’s second-home, a secret hideout. It would have been a place to take my sleeping bag, a candle and my comic books for an overnight expedition.
And that’s apparently what it once was.
Reporter/photographer Bob Linder in 2001 visited in 2001 with Jack Owen, then 74 and now deceased. Owen had lived on his family’s 318-acre dairy farm for 65 years.
“A few feet below (Owen) is terrain no kid could pass up: a natural arch, a shallow stream and caves. There’s even a cave with a window and a fireplace. Built into the opening is a mortared stone that reads ‘Cozy Cave Club.'”
Jack Owen gave the reason for the wall at the front of the cave in one quote: “‘That was (the work of) my older brother Gene and his high school chums,’ Owen said.”
Jack Owen’s grandson — Andrew Owen Buckler — lives just north of Lost Hill Park. He is 35 and, of course, has been to the cave.
“The cave, to my knowledge, was a meeting place of a band of brothers,” he says.
Jack Owen, a World War II veteran, died in 2018 at 91. He was preceded in death by his two brothers (Gene and Melvin) and his two sisters (Cornelia and Kathlyn.) The sixth and youngest sibling, Jane Owen Klingner, died at 87 in 2021.
A love of the land and the bounty of nature
Kathlyn “Kakie” Montgomery died in 2010 at 90. Her obituary states:
“She was the fourth of six children who grew up on a family farm which was recently dedicated and opened to the public by the City of Springfield as Lost Hill Park.
“The tree covered hills, lush pastures, rocks, caves, and streams of moving water instilled in the Owen children a deep and lifelong love of the land and the bounty of nature.”
This is Answer Man column No. 59.