Marble Creek Recreation Area is a hidden gem lying halfway between Taum Sauk and Wappapello with no foreseeable way of being connected to either.
Forest Service Recreation and Watershed Manager Chris Woods said the recreation area is unique because it is really not that well known to folks and provides a certain amount of solitude during the weekdays.
"What sometimes gets lost is that the first parking lot as one enters the recreation area serves as a trail head for the Marble Creek section of the Ozark Trail," Woods said. "Folks can park at Marble Creek and then hike to Crane Lake."
Woods said the trail is approximately nine miles long and some hikers opt to leave a shuttle vehicle at Crane Lake for the return ride.
The trail is constructed for foot, cycling and equestrian, but no motor vehicles are allowed.
Woods said horses are allowed at the trail head but not within the campground or picnic area.
"I have personal childhood memories of camping at Marble Creek and spending several summers swimming at the old grist mill dam," Woods said. "The recreation area serves campers, swimmers and fisherman."
The trail to the dam is small and hikers may need to walk single file, but it is beautiful as it winds next to the creek and through the woods. Wild flowers can be seen along the path and butterflies and dragonflies flutter by.
Once you reach the opening, the beauty of the old grist mill dam compliments the natural beauty of its surrounding rocks, forest and waterway.
U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Becky Ewing said the remains of the dam are of the third to be built in that spot. She said the first dam was made of wood, the second of rock and earth and the present of concrete and iron.
The dam was operational until 1935. It is easy to see the age of the dam, as the water has began to work away at the concrete slowly deteriorating what it was and making it what it is today.
Signs around the dam urge hikers to use caution and refrain from walking on the dam or swimming underneath it.
The foundation of what once was the old building gives the dam even more character.
As you continue down the path, each lookout area is just as spectacular as the last. The sounds of the water and the trees create a relaxing environment and a wonderful contrast from busy city life. Large boulders can be climbed to create your own path as you continue down the creek.
Ewing said Marble Creek rushes 20 miles through the St. Francis Mountains and is named after the deposits of colored dolomites which were mined and traded as Taum Sauk Marble.
Hiking, picknicking and river access areas are open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. with only registered campers allowed after those hours. Day-use fees are $2 per vehicle, $10 per campsite and $20 for double site per day.
Ewing said, due to emerald ash borer (an exotic beetle which has already killed more than 50 million ash trees in the northern United States) being detected in Marble Creek, all firewood brought into the park is considered quarantined and must not leave the county.
Marble Creek Recreation Area is located off of Route E in Fredericktown.