VAN BUREN, Mo. -- Locals believe the beauty of drifting down the nation's first federally protected scenic river on a tube is unmatched and now voters of AAA's Best of the Midwest poll agree.
The clear, spring-fed waters of the Current River were chosen Best Weekend Float over the Black River at Lesterville, Mo., Cache River in Southern Illinois and the Kaw River in Kansas.
"Cool water temperature and gently moving water -- plus scenic spots like Alley Mill -- combine for a great day on the river," according to the July/ August issue of AAA Midwest Traveler.
The waterway's list of beautiful spots is endless, according to Carter County Presiding Commissioner John Bailiff.
"Floating the Current River is priceless," he said. "There are things here you can't experience anywhere else.
"When the dogwood and rosewood trees are blooming, it's just awesome. Where Big Spring comes in, the water is extremely cold and a different color. It's a site to behold. At Coleman's Failure … the river takes a 90 degree turn to the left and then there's a big rock bluff. It's spectacular."
Then there's Panther Springs, Bailiff continued, that acts like an outdoor air conditioner and drops the temperature to about 70 degrees where water from an underground cave surfaces, or swimming at Shoate Hole below straight bluff drop offs and the bubbles at Bass Rock where underground springs surface.
"It's kind of a lazy river," he said. "The clarity of the water is astounding to me. … It's beautiful. It's hard for me to explain."
Van Buren Chamber of Commerce President Wanda Cumings believes it is the surrounding nature and the clean water of Current River that attracts thousands of visitors to a resource that provides more than an enjoyable weekend trip for residents of the surrounding area.
"The river means the survival of the community," said Cumings.
It has for generations, once as a vital transportation artery for the lumber industry and now as the draw for the tourism dollars that support Carter County.
"There are a lot of people who would not be able to make a living here otherwise," Cumings said. "Anything that has to do with tourism relies on the river, from the shops to the restaurants to the motels. From there, it's a domino effect. They employ the locals."
Van Buren, MO