THAYER -- Officials with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), John Bufkin and Steve Bost, met with the Thayer Chamber of Commerce Oct. 3 at Los Potrillos Restaurant in Thayer to discuss Grand Gulf State Park. All chamber members present told Bufkin and Bost they were happy with the park. Chamber President Lisa Cates mentioned the road to the park could use some shoulders. Chamber member Ron Cornelius said he was more than pleased with the park.
Grand Gulf State Park is located on W Highway between Koshkonong and Thayer.
Following the meeting with the chamber, Bufkin, Bost and Grand Gulf State Park Resource Interpreter Ann Price held a meeting with the community, in another room at the restaurant.
Bufkin and Bost both work at Montauk State Park in Salem, Mo.
Price presented a slide show at the Grand Gulf meeting to those present. She also praised former Oregon County Presiding Commissioner and long-time Grand Gulf supporter Dorthey Ellis for her interest in the park.
Mammoth Spring State Park Superintendent Dave Jackson and assistant superintendent Glenda Pryor were both at the Grand Gulf meeting.
Former Grand Gulf employee Netty Greeves told a story about how a West Plains teenager used the park for a science project back in the 1970s. Greeves said Tony Aid placed material in the stream at the gulf and it emerged in the lake at Mammoth Spring State Park.
Price said the two parks are seven to eight miles apart and it takes as long as 24 hours for dye or bales of hay to float from Grand Gulf to Mammoth Spring.
Mammoth Spring flows as much as nine million gallons of water an hour, part of it coming from Grand Gulf.
"We are planning some future development at the park," Price said She said some of the projects being looked at include new interpreter panels. remodeling some of the overlooks, a park office on the park grounds and additional hiking trails.
The park is often referred to as Missouri's "Little Grand Canyon."
Price said it gives visitors a chance to view a variety of natural wonders.
"From a canyon to a cave to a natural bridge. The park has plenty to see and much to do," Price said.
The park is 322 acres and features a collapsed cave. Part of the cave's roof forms one of the largest natural bridges in the state, spanning 200 feet with an opening 75 feet high and 50 feet wide.
Early explorers were able to enter the cave. Information from Missouri DNR said Luella Agnes Owens, in her book, Cave Regions of the Ozarks and Black Hills (1898), recounted her explorations in the Grand Gulf. After entering the cave at the downstream end of the chasm, she said "The ceiling dipped so we were not able to stand straight, and the guide said he had never gone further; but to his surprise here was a light boat which I am ready to admit he displayed no eagerness to appropriate for his own use, and swimming about, close to the shore, were many, small, eyeless fish, pure white and fearless; the first I have ever seen, and little beauties," she wrote. Owen used the boat to explore the underground system for a considerable distance.
Access to the deeper portions of the cave remained possible until the 1920s when a severe storm washed many downed trees and other debris into the gulf, filling the cave. Today heavy rains fill the gulf to depths more than 100 feet, and the water drains out slowly over a period of several weeks.
Price said the Grand Gulf stretches for nearly a mile with walls almost 130 feet high, making the chasm deeper than it is wide.
Trails, boardwalks and overlooks have been installed so that visitors can get a view from the edge of the cliffs and descend partway into the chasm without endangering themselves or the environment.
"There are outdoor exhibits that tell the story of the Gulf and help visitors understand how it was formed. They can also enjoy several hiking trails from which to explore the canyon from above," she said.
In 1971 Grand Gulf was designated a National Natural Landmark and in 1984 the property became a Missouri state park.
Price said annually 50,000 to 60,000 people visit the park.