The Ozark Trail, a figment of the trail advocates' imagination 30 some years ago, has reached over 350 miles of meandering trail through the southern Missouri Ozarks. The final trail is meant to extend 500 miles from St. Louis to the southern border of Missouri, where it will connect with the Ozark Highland Trail in northern Arkansas, to create a seven hundred mile long trans-Ozark trail.
The trail was created largely as a result of a piece of legislation that ruled Missouri as having a trail deficit by at least 500 miles. It is now designated as a National Recreation Trail and is very hiker/backpacker friendly. Some portions of the route even permit horses and bikers. It crosses many public lands such as Johnson's Shut-ins, Taum Sauk and Sam A. Baker State Parks as well as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and Mark Twain National Forest. The trail is set to be completed in the next ten to fifteen years, as acquiring some private lands for the designated routes is a gradual process.
The Ozark Trail Association has been working for 25 years to build this trail. Progress was rather slow until 2002, when the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) implemented the idea of creating a volunteer-based program to help continue the construction of the trail. Today, the association hosts many "mega-events" in the spring, summer and fall, which attract nearly 200 volunteers to every event.
The trail build is environmental education in itself, in the sense that it gives prospective trail users the chance to participate in the process of building a piece of public property, as well as teaching the environmental responsibilities we share. Anyone can sign up and join a work party to contribute. Mega-events usually occur on Saturdays and usually provide volunteers with free camping, sack lunches to take on the trail and a barbecue and bonfire to follow the hard work of trail forgery. Having an enjoyable experience is definitely emphasized during the building experience. For those who wish to get even more involved, many small work parties are put together throughout the year. You can even adopt your own section to help maintain.
Although this particular trail is located in Missouri, the OTA did not invent the idea of volunteer organizations created solely on creating a trail. The idea was inspired by many other similar trails being built or that have been built throughout the U.S. Surely the OTA won't be the last.
I encourage everyone to get out and volunteer. Make these trails a reality, to promote a more environmentally conscious society by giving people a place to retreat back into nature!
Get involved! Go hike!