Shut-ins awe

Friday, April 9, 2010

If you go to Ironton, the county seat of Iron County in the Ozarks over yonder, you get three towns for the price of one. Arcadia is on the south end, and Pilot Knob is on the north end.

And if you're in Ironton, you also are close to three of Missouri's state parks: Taum Sauk, Johnson's Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks.

Ironton, Arcadia and Pilot Knob are bursting at the seams with history and small-town charm. The whole Ironton-Arcadia-Pilot Knob greater metropolitan area is situated in the broad, beautiful Arcadia Valley lined with fine forested hills that qualify, by Missouri standards, as mountains.

From the top of Taum Sauk Mountain, you can see nearby Proffitt Mountain, another in the collection of hills called the St. Francois Mountains. AmerenUE's hydroelectric power station reservoir is on top of Proffitt Mountain. Never mind that Ameren calls it the Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Power Station. Water stored on top of Proffitt Mountain goes through a tunnel to generators and another reservoir at the bottom of the mountain. During the night, when there is less demand for electricity, the water is pumped back to the top, and then the process is repeated.

It was the north side of the reservoir at the top of Proffitt Mountain that collapsed in 2005, releasing a billion gallons of water in just a few minutes. The water cut a swath through the forested hillside all the way to the east fork of the Black River just upstream a few hundred yards from the shut-ins at Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.

The massive flood wiped out the man-made features of the park. It also tumbled huge boulders, some the size of automobiles, onto the wide level area at the entrance to the state park.

In four years, using funds provided by Ameren, the state park has been cleaned up, renovated and reopened.

Anyone who never saw the park before the 2005 flood won't be able to fully appreciate all that has happened there. A new entrance takes motorists through the boulder-strewn area. Pedestrian access to the shut-ins offers wheelchair access all the way to the shut-ins. Steps from the walkway down to the river and the shut-ins make it so much easier to get to the rocks that squeeze the river water into flumes enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year.

On our first visit last week since the 2005 flood, my wife and I were awed by the visible signs of the force created by a billion gallons of runaway water. The shut-ins are always stunningly beautiful, but now a fascinating new dimension has been added.

Near the entrance of the park is a new Black River interpretive center that is set to open this spring. But it wasn't open last week, which means we have a good excuse to make another trip back to the park in the near future.<I>

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