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Attendance steady on first day of annual scenic drive
Although the sun didn't shine on Southeast Missouri until late afternoon Saturday, many of the businesses participating in the Mississippi River Valley Scenic Drive logged a steady stream of visitors throughout the day.
As the clouds cleared above Tower Rock Winery in Altenburg, Mo., around 5 p.m., owner Nancy Hadler said about 30 visitors were sipping wine on their covered veranda and on the pier overlooking the pond.
"It's been a little spotty because of the storm, but right now the sun is shining. … The winery is doing real well," Hadler said.
Tower Rock Winery, along with the historic churches and museum in Altenburg were two of the 30 locations \ on the 20th annual scenic drive, which continues today.
Frank Nickell, director of the Center of Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University, said he helped start the tour to showcase all the history and character the region has to offer and boost tourism in the rural communities.
"It's not what you have, but what you do with it," Nickell said. "Some communities really bought into that. People enjoy the rural simplicity of the communities on the drive."
Scattered showers soaked most of the rural communities included in the drive for most of Saturday, but Nickell said the rain has became part of the tour's tradition.
"I think it has rained on us 14 of the 20 years," he said. "We just know it's going to rain, so we make the most of it. There were still bright spots in a lot of places."
Three groups of visitors kept owners at the Egger & Co. General Store in Farrar, Mo., busy for much of the afternoon as they toured the bed and breakfast at the site and shopped a plant sale. A local farmer who crafts candle holders out of cedar was also selling his work at the store Saturday.
The general store, renovated in 2004 by its current owners, features numerous locally made items, including soaps, greeting cards, screen art and mosaic artwork. And at the bed and breakfast, owner Ellen Frye said they serve traditional German cuisine, many of the recipes ones she acquired from her grandmother.
"This is an old German community and it's kind of related to the Saxon immigration in the mid-1800s, so we serve items that I remember eating at Grandma's house," Frye said.
Despite the forecast, motorists arrived early to the Pinecrest Azalea Farm in Oak Ridge, Mo., where visitors can tour a garden growing more than 200,000 plants.
Visitors began touring the gardens around 8 a.m., according to owner Linda Penzel.
The gardens were started in 1963, she said, and since then have drawn around 4,000 visitors per year. They come to see daffodils, which bloom in late March, and the azaleas, which bloom in mid-April. The garden also feature jonquils, rhododendrons and hollies and is open during daylight hours only through the month of May.
"Considering the rain, today's been pretty busy," Penzel said.
On the scenic drive today, tourists can see residents baking bread in an outdoor oven in Frohna, Mo., an arts and craft show in Marble Hill, Mo., and a band at River Ridge Winery in Commerce, Mo.
"It'll be one of the best afternoons of the year; that's every reason to participate tomorrow. In spite of the rain and in spite of the wind, there will be good times had tomorrow," Nickell said.
Additional highlights on the scenic drive include the Historic Railroad Town in Scott City, Old Bethel Baptist Church in Jackson, Bollinger Mill State Historic Site in Burfordville, Mo., and the Historic Town and Church in Brazeau, where visitors will be offered homemade ham and bean soup.