Beautiful surroundings have long made southwest Missouri's Roaring River State Park a gathering place. Since the 1830s there have been grist mills on the spring branch. As families waited for their cornmeal, there would be music and dances and, of course, fishing in the spring branch.
Goodspeed's History of Barry County, published in 1888, notes, "Roaring River is a favorite haunt of delicious fish, speckled trout twelve inches long." These non-native fish probably were stocked by the Neosho Hatchery, the oldest federal hatchery west of the Mississippi.
Later, one of the old mills was converted into a resort hotel/restaurant, and a trout hatchery was built in 1910. The owner of the resort fell on hard times in 1928 and went into bankruptcy. The property was sold at auction on the courthouse steps in Cassville that year to Thomas Sayman, who donated it to the State of Missouri.
From 1933 to 1939 the Civilian Conservation Corps worked to create the beautiful stonework in the park. The hatchery's dam, stone pools and buildings appear to be a natural part of the environment. The same is true for the Old Roaring River Lodge, an elegant three-story stone building-originally a hotel, restaurant and store.
The Conservation Commission was created in 1937. The first commissioners reasoned that since trout were not native to Missouri and since raising them to stocking size was expensive, the trout fishery in the state should pay its own way. Accordingly they established a 25-cent daily tag.
Today the daily tag costs $3 for adults and $2 for children 15 and younger. Anglers have a lot of options and opportunities. The Conservation Department now stocks the upper 1.6 miles of stream each night from March 1 to October 31 at 2.25 fish per angler expected the next day.
Artificial lures, flies and any soft plastic bait resembling an egg, worm or grub can be used in Zone 1. Zone 2 is reserved for flies only, and a portion of it is set aside for catch-and-release fishing only.
An additional 1.4 miles of stream, referred to as Zone 3, is stocked twice each week. Rules allow natural or artificial lures or bait. While fishing is a little more of a challenge in this area, it is well worth the effort. Anglers are treated to more solitary fishing in this gorgeous natural stretch. Regulations require either a daily tag or a trout permit.
We stock around 270,000 12-inch rainbows, along with a few thousand 10- to 11-inch brown trout and a handful of 3- to 5-pound lunker rainbows each season. Amazingly enough, anglers catch several hundred lunker trout over 3 pounds from the stream yearly. In 1987 an angler caught a 16.8 pound rainbow. In 1997 an angler landed a 14.45-pound brown trout.
During no-creel fishing in the winter, anglers can experience catch after catch of larger trout. At times anglers and visitors can see eagles flying over the stream or perching in nearby trees. The no-creel season lasts from the second Friday in November to the second Sunday in February.
The old lodge offers a wide variety of fishing equipment for sale or rent. A knowledgeable staff of instructors hold fly fishing clinics and full two day fly fishing schools.
Visitors to the park have a choice of many activities besides fishing. There are 10 miles of hiking trails amid unusual geological formations, abundant wildlife, wildflowers and majestic forest. There also is a stable and trails for horseback riding.
The park's nature center features educational displays, daytime guided hikes and evening nature programs.
Several programs are designed for children.
Hatchery tours explain how the fish are raised and provide facts about Roaring River Spring and information on park history. Twenty-five cents will buy a handful of fish food that you can use to entice monster rainbows and browns in the spring pool. Local musicians treat visitors to free bluegrass music every Friday night in an amphitheater-an event that always draws an overflow crowd. The park has a swimming pool with lifeguards on duty in summer, and the park store rents mountain and cruiser bikes.
The park also offers great accommodations. There are 139 electric hook up camp sites, 48 basic sites and 26 rustic cabins available. However, the outstanding feature is the beautiful Roaring River Inn. Finished in 1998, it is the largest project completed in any of Missouri's state parks.
Like the old lodge, it fits well into the environment. It overlooks the valley and has stonework inside and out, including a floor-to-cathedral ceiling stone fireplace and a great restaurant. There are 26 comfortable guest rooms.