Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Lake of the Ozarks Bagnell Dam

As I have said before, St Louisans will turn a fountain into a swimming pool no matter how many times the park rangers tell them to get out of it. Build a hydroelectric dam in the middle of Missouri, and by golly, we will turn it into a recreation center for the entire state.

So you've seen "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", right? You could take that movie and set it RIGHT HERE. When the Osage River was blocked by Bagnell Dam and created Lake of the Ozarks, a dozen towns were wiped off the map. It was a huge project that helped Missouri get through the Depression, as it employed thousands of people in the 1930s. No word on how much loot might be under all that water.

In this case, it was Union Electric who was responsible for this whole endeavor. They built the first resort, the first restaurant, and the first excursion boat service. Today, Lake of the Ozarks is a huge center of tourism in Missouri and employs thousands of people, as the hotels, motels, resorts, outlet malls, putt putt courses, go kart tracks, and marinas have multiplied. Yet the 1,150 miles of shoreline still appear mostly wooded. Even when we were at the Strip (see last week's post), I saw deer on an overgrown lot.

As you come into town (Lake Ozark) from 54, just before you reach the dam itself, you will see signs directing you towards Wilmore Lodge on the right, and Ameren Scenic Overlook to the left. You should check out both. Wilmore Lodge is a former recreation and administration log cabin built by Union Electric, later purchased by an individual and converted to a private residence, and the RE-purchased by Ameren and converted into a museum about the dam project and the towns that were displaced. It's a fine little museum, very interesting and comfortable. There is a great room with couches and fireplaces where you can set a spell, and a wraparound veranda with amazing views of the lake.

The scenic overlook is not actually very scenic because the view of the dam is obstructed by several trees. However, you can get an up-close look at this original cast steel turbine at the park.

Follow that road all the way down to the river at the bottom of the dam and you can park and walk to a platform right next to the spillway. I thought this was the most interesting part of all, because you see how Ameren and the Missouri Department of Conservation work together to protect nature at a man-made lake. There are signs to help you identify the fish and birds you will see hanging around there, lots of fishermen out on the river, and even bird nests in the concrete wall of the platform. 

That black blob in the water is actually a jumping fish. No fish ladder (did you know that's a thing?) at Bagnell Dam, so they just leap and leap and leap. You could sit there all day watching the fish and birds, but if you spend too much time looking at the swirling water you'll get a mean case of vertigo!

Something I just learned about and will be adding to the yearly calendar: The Great Bagnell Dam Duck Drop. You guys, this is a craziest raffle I've ever heard of. You buy a ticket that "adopts" a rubber duck, and then they drop all the ducks OUT OF A HELICOPTER into the river, and the first duck that crosses the finish line is the winner. The person who bought that duck wins $5,000! This year's event is the weekend of August 3 and the festivities also include a golf tournament and 5k fun run.

If you haven't taken a vacation to Lake of the Ozarks yet, what are you waiting for?

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