Notes from Hunter Creek

Another River Gem In The Ozarks

When a person first truly examines the Jacks Fork River, you’re thinking: “No not a River but, “Jacks Fork Creek.”  

From the slender beginning of its two prongs in eastern Texas County, down all the way almost 45 miles later to its juncture with the Current River at a spot named “Two Rivers,” the Jacks Fork River looks a whole lot more like a creek than a river.             

While it is spring fed, you can tell that the Jacks Fork at Two Rivers is only contributing about 40% of the volume to its larger and more spring-fed sister, the Current River.            

Of course, Jacks Fork is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a sort of unique, floating national park (established in 1970) administered by the National Park Service within the Department of Interior.           

All riverside land and all accesses and campgrounds are owned by the NPS. A Federal river-YES! Along with the Current River, a very significant, historical, and scenic event for the Ozarks.                       

Resentment by the old river folks who lived in the now “federal” valleys?  You bet!  In Texas, Howell, and especially Shannon County.  If a local vote were held tomorrow, there would probably exist a narrow victory for the return of the river to its old ways, without any further negotiations.                 

Why only a narrow vote? Because that is the way America is divided today in the 21st century. These two scenic streams of the Ozark Nat’l Scenic Riverways (ONSR) are tourist grabbers, producing between 250,000 and 500,000 visitors a year, depending on who is reporting the numbers.

But with almost all of the valuable timber having been harvested three times in most areas, and the stream valleys being fairly fertile but narrow, the area is not suited all that well for today’s agribusiness.       

That means along with hunting and fishing in these stream valleys (check federal regs closely for hunting and fishing within the boundaries of the ONSR), recreational activities in these counties now account for their number one facet of local economics. In other words, tourism has passed agriculture and logging in these poor rural counties.        

Here are the highlights of this clear-water gem.  

Jacks Fork River: (for a much greater detailed description and river maps, please consult Oz Hawksley’s wonderful book, “A Guide to Missouri Ozark Waterways,” originally published in 1965, later revised in 1997 by the Missouri Conservation Commission). 

River mile 0.0 – MDC South Prong Access at Hwy. Y Bridge, located northwest of Mountain View, Mo. Known locally as the “Prongs.”

Mile 7.0 –  MDC “ Buck Hollow” Access at Hwy. 17.

Mile 9.5 – Blue Spring from a hidden cave on river left.

Mile 12.5 – Jam Up Bluff and Cave with spring branch on river right. One of the most spectacular cave entrances in the Ozarks.

Mile 16.0 – MDC Rymers Access and Campground at end of gravel road off of M Hwy, located north of Birch Tree, Mo. Just downstream from a strong spring called “Ebb and Flow”. 

Mile 17.0 – Bunker Hill Access. Private only, for Mo. State Teacher’s Assn.

Mile 25.0 – Bay Creek Access and Camp on river left. Reached by a gravel road north off of Hwy. 106, west of Alley Spring. Note: Watch water levels and weather for 1st 25 miles, all contained in a canyon-type setting. Unless there has been good spring rains, water will be skinny and non-floatable by Memorial Day, above Bay Creek.  If strong rains occur, this stretch can rise dramatically within a short time period. Pay attention! After Bay Creek, the river valley widens considerably. 

Mile 31.0 – Alley Spring with its historic Old Mill, from Alley Spring to  the Current River, the Jacks Fork is easily floatable, except in rough dry years.

Mile 37.5 – Town of Eminence, Mo. has cafes and supplies in town.  Access and Camping at Hwy. 19 Bridge. 

Mile 44.5 – Two Rivers juncture with Current River. Access is over 1/2-mile downstream on Current River at ferry landing at end of  V Hwy. There used to be a post office and small community located here, but now nothing.  This is also mile 52.5 on the Current River, stretching from Montauk State Park to Current View on the Ark./Mo. border, some 140 miles downstream).       

If you’ve never floated the Jacks Fork River, you need to put it on your bucket list. Class I and some II water if high. Gradient: just over 8’ drop per mile down to Alley Spring.   

This was a favorite float for me and one of my good friends, who departed way too early in life at age 62, Grant Haden.         

Note: (April 15th, 2019) I wake up every day before dawn and drink my strong Seattle’s Best dark-roasted coffee and can’t wait for daylight. As the morning fog evaporates, I notice there is still one juvenile bald eagle soaring up the creek valley. Has he or she been left behind or did she just decide the Ozarks could support her all summer until friends and family arrive back from Canada and Alaska in early October?   

The Red Buds have been flowering for at least 10 days and now Dogwood blooms are slowly appearing in the woods. Generally, when the Sweet William wildflowers bloom along the creek, it’s morel time! But if you’re hungry, don’t follow me around because I have not located one mushroom yet.   

I wish I knew more about the foliage for hardwood trees. There are about 1/2 dozen nice size tall nameless trees with bright green foliage standing tall in the forest canopy about halfway up the bluff across Hunter Creek from my side porch vantage. 

Oh well, so much to learn, and so little time left in life in which to learn.

A quick note on the annual Easter St. Francois River float  Good Friday -river at 40 in., approximately one-foot over the old bridge.  59 degrees. Windy and cloudy. River was too high for a safe float  in this weather.  Good Saturday–river at 27 in., big and pushy, but just about perfect for our NWR 12-foot raft.  Easter Sunday–naturally on going home day, 82 degrees, no wind.  A perfect day for this time of the year. Water at 17 in. Okay for the raft but major drops are starting to get technical.  With a 10- or 12-foot raft, you can float with the river gauge reading at 12 in. or greater.  With a kayak, C-1 or a solo canoe, the river can be floated but very bony, down to a negative 9 in on the gauge.

Now just a quick lesson on gauges and their relevant readings  as to any canyon or shut-in run.  Due to the constricted nature of canyon streams, a difference of 6 in. on the gauge just outside the canyon could mean a difference of 1-3 feet up in the canyon. Of course, each river “reads” differently.  I would estimate that for every six inch rise on the St. Francois river gauge would add 18 in to 30 inches up above the shut-ins.  A big difference!

One more note of interest.  2016-water was pretty low as well as the temperature. In 2017, we were almost flooded out.  In 2018, we skipped our annual float on the Francois due to freezing rain and/or snow for five straight weeks into the beginning of May.  

I am a slow learner but have come to realize two important things in life. First I am becoming a fair-weather floater.  And secondly, due to advancing arthritis, my whitewater days have unfortunately come to a rather non-dramatic end.

Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozarks outdoors!