Missouri nature park is a beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors
LAMPE, Mo. — Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is like a Garden of Eden in the Ozark Mountains.
About 16 miles west of the Big Cedar Lodge resort in Ridgeville, the park is another of Johnny Morris' conservation endeavors. The founder of Bass Pro Shops, Morris first started buying the land in 1990 and developing it as a nature park.
“He wanted to preserve a big chunk of the Ozarks for everybody to see,” said Chad Phillips, property manager of the park.
It started with Morris' initial purchase of 2,260 acres that serves as the core of the property. Today, Dogwood Canyon Nature Park has more than 10,000 acres overlapping Missouri and Arkansas.
The land was unattended for several years before Morris bought it. Massive cleanup efforts and improvements were required, and in 1993 a team of archaeologists discovered human remains in one of the 20 caves on the property.
The remains were carbon-dated to 960 A.D. and is believed to be the oldest human skeletons ever found in Missouri.
Last year, the park closed after unprecedented flooding in April. It was five months before it could reopen. Hundreds of dump trucks of soil were brought in and 10,000 pounds of trout were put into the creeks.
During a tour last month, I discovered that Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is a beautiful place again with towering bluffs, cascading waterfalls, spring-fed creeks filled with rainbow trout for fishing and handcrafted bridges along 6 1/2 miles of paved trails.
There are also unpaved trails for more rugged hiking and horseback riding at Little Indian Stables. The horseback riding trails offer multiple creek crossings. Fishing equipment and bikes are available for rent on-site.
There is a cost of admission to enter Dogwood Canyon Nature Park plus additional costs for activities such as fishing and use of the trails for hiking, jogging, biking or horseback riding. If it were free, it would be overrun with people.
You can fish on your own or the Dogwood Canyon Fly Fishing Academy offers guided catch-and-release fishing.
If you are a frequent visitor to the Branson area and fall in love with Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a season pass is the most economical option. No camping is allowed.
Bison, elk, whitetail deer and longhorn cattle are raised on the property and guests can view the animals on a tram tour. There are also park tours via Segway and jeep.
There is now a restaurant in the park where bison and elk burgers are popular sellers. The restaurant overlooks Little Indian Creek and a 120-foot waterfall.
An education center and treehouse at Dogwood Canyon is outfitted with classrooms to educate visitors about the importance of Ozarks conservation, a theme of Morris' property developments.
The treehouse was built by a team from the Animal Planet TV show "Treehouse Masters," and on the day of my visit, staff from the new Wonders of Wildlife museum had brought some of its animals for exhibit.
Dogwood Canyon also is a popular place to get married. The Hope Wilderness Chapel was built as a replica of a traditional place of worship in the Ozarks in the 1800s.
The Dogwood Mill and Artifact Hall are some of the newest buildings in the park. Keeping with the traditions and heritage of the Ozarks, a gristmill was built with a 25-foot tall wheel powered by the cold water of Little Indian Creek.
Artifact Hall features lithics from native tribes in the area. As evidenced by Artifact Hall at Dogwood Canyon, many of the artifacts in the Wonders of Wildlife Museum in Springfield, Missouri, and those in the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum at Top of the Rock in Ridgeville, Morris seems to have great respect for the Native Americans who were here before us.
Phillips said more people are discovering Dogwood Canyon each year. This year, the park will have about 125,000 visitors, he said.
For more information about the park, go to DogwoodCanyon.org.