By - Associated Press - Saturday, July 30, 2016
EMINENCE, Mo. (AP) - A 440-acre swath of southern Missouri that the governor considered a former “drug haven” is the newest state park, giving nature-loving tourists additional access to trails, caves and streams. About 330 acres of what now is Echo Bluff State Park in Shannon County had been known as Camp Zoe, which had a music venue and was raided in 2010because of outdoor drug sales. Land owner Jimmy Tebeau forfeited the camp to the U.S. government and went to prison. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources bought the land at auction and added 100 acres. Tens of millions of dollars later went into building a lodge, playground, campgrounds, pavilions and two-bedroom cabins. Gov. Jay Nixon calls Echo Bluff a centerpiece to the region’s tourism. “In essence, we turned it from a drug haven to a jewel of our state park system,” Nixon, an Eagle Scout and former state attorney general, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/2ahFKa0 ). “It’s going to pay off huge dividends for a lot of years to come.” The new park abuts the 80,000-acre Ozark Scenic Riverways, the national park popular for canoeing and fishing on and along 134 miles of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. Echo Bluff also borders a forest reserve.
“That (former Camp Zoe) property is unique, almost spiritual to me and to many, many people,” said Jack Peters, a 78-year-old longtime resident who now runs a canoe rental. “Anybody that property has touched recognizes it and senses it. I was happy when the state bought it because it still belongs to all of us. What’s the alternative? That it be chopped up into little lots with ‘Keep Out’ signs.”
Yet the project has drawn scrutiny, largely from critics questioning the spending on such things as a $5 million bridge built over the park’s Sinking Creek while they say a new bridge is badly needed on a highway just outside the park. Nixon waves that off, saying “you always have folks that don’t fully see down the field as other folks do.” The state’s 88 state parks and historic sites have been funded with a one-tenth-cent sales tax that residents have voted to renew in 1988, 1996 and 2006, Nixon said. It will be on the ballot again Nov. 8. Nixon added that $69 million has been spent on upgrades since he took office in 2009, and park attendance exceeded 19 million in 2015 - a 30 percent jump since 2008. The state says visitors contribute more than $1 billion to the economy and thousands of jobs. ___ Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com