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Missing the forest for the trees

“I wish I lived someplace popular … maybe by the beach, or a well-known river or lake, or maybe by a big ball stadium or NASCAR track.” My family loves to spend time near the ocean. While we’ve never lived there, every time we visit (which gets more frequently as we get older), I always try to spend a morning or evening watching the sun rise or set over the water (based on whether we’re at the Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf Coast, etc.). I sit there in the sand and watch the sun fade over the water and wonder how wonderful life must be to live in that environment each and every day.

I use that analogy to put a thought in perspective. Here in the Parkland we too often get the idea that we’re living “no where.” The area to our immediate southwest is known for its pristine floating streams and water activities. Due south is Wappapello and Clearwater lakes, and its a few hours or drive time to that boating playground Lake of the Ozarks. We head north for major league sporting events. And some of the best deer hunting in the state occurs just miles to our east along the Mississippi River in Ste. Genevieve County. So what do we have here at home?

Well several things to start with. There are state parks with flower and fauna found nowhere else in the state. Pickle Springs Natural Area has a walking trail with a number of rare ferns within easy view. Hawn State Park has tremendous overlooks from pine glades, while St. Francois State Park boasts miles of walking trails through some of the state’s best hardwood forest. How about Civil War battle sites and period homes and buildings? Or Elephant Rocks, you can’t find those just anywhere.

But the real kicker is St. Joe State Park. Talk about a rarity. Where else in the country can you find so many miles of open trails and riding ground for anything with wheels (and, admittedly, they have equestrian and walking trails for things without wheels, too)? The answer is, there are a few places in the country but very few. A visit to St. Joe on any given day during the summer will turn up license plates from several states. I know because we spend a fair amount of time there in the summers. I’m constantly talking to somebody who has driven in from Illinois, Ohio, Arkansas, or any corner of Missouri. The look on their face is pure “amazement” when they talk about driving for hours to ride for the weekend, and then they ask where I’m from. “I live about four miles from here,” I answer their question. You’d think I’d just told a small child that I live down the street from Santa Claus. In nearly every case they’re envious of my access to such a hallowed riding ground.

“We see this place in ‘Dirt Rider’ magazine every couple months,” one off-road rider told me this week as I was taking photos for the upcoming outdoor page in the Daily Journal this Saturday. “We live in Dupo, Ill., and we try to make it down here at least once a month.” He said they also try to make it to Michigan and Kentucky to ride at parks there from time to time, but frequent St. Joe State Park because it’s the closest park to their house. Anyone who gets out of the house at least once a year and has at least one good eye can tell you that there sure are a lot of trucks towing trailers with ATV’s and motorcycles that pass through this area. Many of those people eat something while they’re here, they buy gas and snacks and beverages, and occasionally they frequent our emergency rooms and provide business for our ambulance service. Not that riding off-road vehicles is a bad thing. It’s just an extreme sport which occasionally requires a visit for medical attention. You know what they say – no pain, no gain. As fun and safe as sitting in a rocking chair might be, the fact is it gets you nowhere fast.

In essence, I’m saying we’re fortunate to be sitting right on the edge of a major tourism draw in Southeast Missouri. Maybe we don’t market it well enough. Maybe our restaurants should offer “tailings” instead of “grits,” or a gas station offer a small bonus (free soda or a few cents off per gallon) to anyone presenting a daily riding permit given out to everyone riding at the park. Perhaps we in the news business have not done our job in showing the world what we have to offer here at home.

We’re trying to rectify that and do our part now. This commentary and Saturday’s feature story stems from a conversation held during our company “state of the company” meeting held recently. This commentary and feature will be posted on the newspapers’ websites. There it will be available to an endless number of people across the continent and beyond. Last year saw hits on our website from readers in every time zone in the world.

So now we’ve done our part, or at least we’re getting started. Welcome to all the ATV and motorcycle riders from surrounding regions and beyond. Visit us, buy our gas and eat at our restaurants. And, oh yeah, while you’re at it, pick up at copy of the Farmington Press. Gnarly!

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