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From hiking and fishing to swimming and boating, Silver Mines Recreation Area is a host to many visitors throughout the year.

The area consists of 75 campsites, a group site, 17 picnic sites and three trails. Whether you are looking to get away for a few hours or a few weeks Silver Mines Recreation Area has something to offer.

Forest Service Recreation and Watershed Manager Chris Woods said the area is a local jewel which receives a lot of out-of-state visitors.

"The history of Silver Mines is very interesting," Woods said. "From the beginning days as a small mining town producing silver, to the later days as a source for the critical component of tungsten for the world war."

Forest Service District Ranger Becky Ewing said the area is named after the abandoned Einstein Mine. She said the Einstein Silver Mining Company began mining in 1877 and mining ceased completely in 1946.

When walking along the Silver Mine Historic Trail, to the west of the St. Francis River hikers will come across what used to be the old mining town. The foundations of buildings can be seen as they are becoming part of their surroundings and an old mine shaft nicknamed "The Air-Conditioner" can be felt as the cool air travels out of its boarded up opening. 

The walk down the trail comes with its challenges as the terrain can become rocky and steep in areas.

Woods said the trail is beautiful but warns people that it is rated as a moderately difficult trail. 

Climb at your own risk, as the trail has become worn and edges can become steep as you get closer to the dam.

The dam itself is worth the walk. As you come upon it, the questions of how it was built flood your mind. Being constructed in 1879, the task would have been a difficult one without modern tools.

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Ewing said the dam was needed to divert the river to a turbine which powered machinery for hoisting and crushing ore. 

If the area has had rain lately, the water will gush over the hole in the dam creating a spot for boaters to continue downstream, a favorite among many locals. The boaters will start upstream at Millstream Gardens Conservation Area and continue downstream through Silver Mines Recreation Area.

According to Ewing, the St. Francis River is the only river in Missouri to be classified as "white water" making it a hot spot for kayaking.

Hikers coming up on the west side of the dam can walk across the portion of the dam that is still standing and watch the boaters as they make there way over the drop. If the water level is down, hikers can continue by walking through the broken portion of the dam and make a loop returning along the east side of the river. 

On the east side of the dam hikers can enjoy the views atop the large boulders next to the water. 

Woods said the park is managed in tandem with the United States Forest Service and Jim and Doris Rehkop, who hold the permit to manage the area.

"They are on year nine now proudly serving visitors," Woods said. "Due to budget constraints with the Forest Service, Silver Mines and a few other recreation areas are concessionaired to permit holders in order to relieve the Forest Service."

Woods said this is due largely to lack of adequate funding to employ the number of Forest Service employees needed. 

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 $3 per vehicle, $10 per bus and $20 for a season pass. Camping fees vary and can be found at www.fs.usda.gov 

Silver Mines Recreation Area is located off of Route D in Fredericktown.

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Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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