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Ozarks Rambles

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by Kenny Knauer

This month, the Ozarks Rambles column celebrates the future by remembering the past. No, Springfield's own Founders Park has not moved to the Barry County/Cassville area; we speak of a perennial favorite of Ozarks area family campers, trout fishermen, and hiking and biking enthusiasts: Roaring River State Park and Trout Hatchery, near Cassville in Barry County.

The new Roaring River Hotel and Conference Center, built by the state of Missouri in the center of the park, is perched on a stunning site on a rise above the trout pools and campgrounds.

The accommodations actually opened last August, with Gov. Carnahan and a host of area dignitaries and supporters in attendance, but this will be the first full season for the hotel and center.

While the state of Missouri retains title to the hotel and conference center land and buildings, all the operations of the hotel restaurants, conference center and very nice new tackle and gift shops are performed by the Delaware North Park Services Co. The company operates at national parks and historic sites, and other commercial operations (including airports); even the Kennedy Space Center and Niagara Falls.

Our host and tour guide was Angela Horner, the sales and marketing manager for Roaring River Concessions.

The wood, glass and stone hotel and conference center lodge building is superbly sited on a rise above the highway crossing at the edge of the trout hatchery. It looms over the outmoded motel building, soon to be demolished, which will certainly improve the view.

There is a variety of fun, interesting and challenging things to do at the state park and campgrounds. There are nature talks and other day and evening entertainment, hiking trails going everywhere, and anyone can enjoy the nearby horseback riding stables.

Campers and day trippers not into the trout fishing season opening-day mania can participate in family river canoeing and tube floating. Non-fishing spouses and friends can shop for stunning arts, crafts and antiques in nearby historic and beautiful Eureka Springs, or visit the artisan studios and discount shopping outlets on Country Music Boulevard in Branson, with time for dinner and a show later on the Strip, or aboard the Branson Belle.

With any of these day trip destinations, it's just a short drive back to the the non-neon serenity of the Roaring River valley, featuring a cricket and cicada serenade to lull one to an invigorating sleep.

The hotel and conference building has lovely dining room views of the park and surrounding ancient hills, with excellent restaurant and conference dining facilities for up to 300 people. There is a fine, full menu and full meal service is available thrice daily, five days a week, including deep-fried dill pickles in the comfortable and scenic Tree Top Grill.

My wife and fellow leisure traveler, Marti, will certainly be a return visitor, as she spied trout and eggs on the breakfast menu, grilled or fried, and smoked salmon salad on the luncheon listings.

At least two of the culinary highlights of the week need to be mentioned an all you can eat seafood buffet served in the lush, two-story, lobby fireplace room on Saturday evenings, and the equally awesome Sunday brunch, served in the Tree Top Grill.

Everything on the daily menu was competitively priced, and I thought many items were more typical of Springfield area prices, free of the frequently inflated tourist destination markups.

Behind the surprising range and selection of entrees and appetizers is the hotel's chef, Horner said. "He was formerly with our Delaware North operations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida."

Area companies, corporations, educational institutions or not-for-profits could not possibly find a more lush and inviting spot for meetings, conferences and retreats, as well as a plethora of inviting, fun and affordable diversions for all.

Cheerful and complete details on the fine dining possibilities and competitive room and group rates for meetings and seminars can all be obtained by calling Horner, (a down home native of Cassville and an SMSU graduate), at Roaring River State Park, 847-2330, ext. 228, fax 847-5667; or write to her at: Roaring River State Park, Rt. 4, Box 4115, Cassville, 65625

Later in the season, Ozarks Rambles will make a return visit to lovely Roaring River State Park to concentrate on the fine cabins, campgrounds and recreational vehicle amenities available in this vacation paradise.

The modestly budgeted family on summer vacation, or frugal baby boomer couples with grown kids, will be the focus of the future column, with emphasis on the historic south Barry County area's environmentally oriented hiking, camping, and recreational possibilities.

(Kenny Knauer is an organizer of the St. Pat's Parade, a participant with the parks, greenways and open spaces committee of Vision 20/20, and a long-time member and volunteer on the steering committee of Founder's Park.)

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