by Jim McCarty
finally here and its time to get outdoors. If you long to get off
the beaten path on a motorcycle, ATV or mountain bike you might feel the
frustration of not having a place to ride. There are few places in Missouri
where off-road vehicles can be opened up without prompting complaints
about noise and damage to the landscape.
Not to fear
two of Missouris state parks feel your pain.
At St. Joe State
Park in Park Hills and Finger Lakes State Park near Columbia you are welcome
to challenge the rugged terrain on whatever off-road vehicle suits your
fancy. Both parks were once mines. This man-made landscape makes them
perfectly suited for off-road use.
Both parks began
when the companies that mined the earth reached the end of the natural
resources they sought. The two mining companies, St. Joe Lead and Peabody
Coal, offered the land to the state.
Before the mined area was turned over to the state, locals used the St.
Joe area for a place to ride off-road vehicles. They found a challenging
playground in the leftover piles of mine waste and a desert-like landscape
called the slime pond where mine tailings were left to settle.
four-wheel-drive trucks, motorcycles and ATVs found a perfect home in
a landscape more like the moon than Earth. Some 2,000 acres had been laid
to waste by mining activities. But an additional 6,000 acres were owned
by St. Joe Lead. The company donated all 8,000-plus acres to the state,
including the rusted out hulk of the milling complex that is now the nearby
Missouri Mines State Historic Site.
a place to race off-road vehicles, the park features 15 miles of trails
for hiking, horseback riding and mountain bikes. An additional 13 miles
of paved roads are popular for bike riding and cross-country skiing. The
park even boasts a tiny airport for flying model planes.
For those more
interested in exploring nature, most of the park is timber with occasional
glades and prairie. Up to a thousand acres of savannas, grassy areas mixed
with large trees, have been identified.
There are four small, clear-water lakes teeming with the usual pond fish
bass, crappie, bluegill and channel catfish. Two swimming beaches
have sandy bottoms made from mine tailings.
But make no mistake,
most people come to St. Joe State Park to kick up some dust. Last year
visitors bought 46,000 riding permits at the park. The roar of powerful
engines can be heard for miles around and the ever-present bobbing of
the required orange flags on four-wheelers can be seen through the trees.
area is real popular, says Bill Bonnell, the parks superintendent.
The majority of users, thats what they come for. But the beaches
will get real crowded once school lets out.
Off-road vehicles are confined to the area where mining took place. Other
trails wind through the woods.
cater to off-road and horseback riders. The park also has a staging area
with ramps for unloading off-road vehicles.
There is no charge
to enter the park, but if you want to ride off-road vehicles there is
Finger Lakes State Park offers a much different experience. Coal was once
mined here and while the landscape may seem natural to the casual observer,
it is actually the work of strip mining.
underlie much of northern Missouri. To find them miners removed tons of
rock and soil to reach long, narrow seams of coal.
lakes that gave this park its name are actually pits where coal
has been removed. They make a perfect playground for park visitors. Several
of these long, skinny lakes have been connected to form a 1.5-mile canoe
On another, a
swimming beach complete with changing house has been created. It is one
of the most popular swimming holes in the Columbia area.
Unlike St. Joe,
Finger Lakes does not allow horseback riding. The park is much smaller
than St. Joe and those who designed its management plan decided horses
and noisy motorcycles in close proximity dont mix.
At Finger Lakes
you can find 70 miles of off-road trails. There is one well-marked main
trail that runs north and south through the park. Other unmarked trails
offer the real possibility of literally losing yourself but all eventually
lead back to the main trail. Theres also a 10-acre motocross track
often used for races. The track is challenging, with jumps and sharp turns.
There is a youth
track as well. This area is open to children 12 and under riding motorcycles
with 80cc or smaller engines.
The two parks
differ in the challenges they offer as well as in the types of vehicles
they allow. At St. Joe State Park the sandflats are well-suited to beginning
riders. Finger Lakes rugged trails are more difficult.
are rugged. They run through the woods, says Patricia Fagan, an
employee of Finger Lakes State Park. Id say they are more
for the intermediate to advanced riders. But we do have beginners come
says its not unusual to see riders from all surrounding states and
even as far away as Colorado using the trails at Finger Lakes. They
dont have facilities like this in their states, she says.
St. Joe State
Park welcomes dune buggies and four-wheel drive trucks, but only on the
sandflat areas. These vehicles are not allowed at Finger Lakes.
Both parks offer
a number of races. Finger Lakes holds races sanctioned by the Motocross
Parents Association. From six to nine races a year are held at the track.
Two mountain bike events are held as well.
At St. Joe similar
events are held. In addition, the park has a bicycle road race and a black
powder rendezvous in August.
state parks offer something for everyone, and these two parks are worth
visiting if you own off-road vehicles. Adventure awaits you at every turn
For more information
on these or other state parks call 1-800-334-6946 or find them on the
Internet at www.mostateparks.com.