Johnsons Shut-Ins State Park

Stone Business, March 10, 2010

by K. Schipper

Jim Bellilove Hilde DeBruyne Jim Sherman
Explaining Earth's age - simply and concisely - could have been left to a graph or chart. Instead, children of all ages can follow the concentric shape of the Earth's Time mosaic.

"Right before this event happened, we had gone through a long-range planning process for the park to update it," Lale says. "One of the things that was real important to people was interpretation. It has wonderful natural resources, but we didn't have great facilities and we wanted to enhance that.".

The breach of the dam for the Taum Sauk Pumped Storage plant sent the massive rush of water into the river and washed away literally everything man-made in the park. It also damaged the natural environment, uprooting trees and dropping sediment in the shut-ins.

However, within days, AmerenUE – the power plant's owner – responded to the situation by sending in a team from the St. Louis office of MACTEC, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based engineering, environmental and construction services consultant.

"We were there to help with the cleanup," says Ron Huffman, a senior design group principal with MACTEC's Kennesaw, Ga., office. "The Missouri Department of Natural Resources looked at Ameren to determine how they were going to put the park back in place, and Ameren brought in our firm to help."


MIDDLEBROOK, Mo. – More than a billion gallons of water rushing – unexpectedly – through a state park early one winter morning is nothing short of a disaster.

And, yet, after the dam of a hydroelectric-plant reservoir broke in December 2005 and sent its load through one of Missouri's most-popular state parks, thoughts and actions quickly turned to renewal.

The massive wall of water wrecked havoc with the facilities of the Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, although – luckily – there were no fatalities. A subsequent multi-million-dollar settlement between the state of Missouri and the hydro plant's owner allowed restoration of the park's facilities to meet 21st-century needs.

That includes new interpretive installations that utilize waterjet-cut materials – mainly natural stone – to explain the site's geology, flora and fauna in new ways.


The Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park didn't need a boost to make it more attractive in the minds of users. Located in the Ozark Mountains of southeastern Missouri, the area was originally populated by people seeking to escape the ravages of the Civil War – including a family named Johnston, whose name is believed to have lost its "t" due to a recording error.

Too rocky to farm, area residents turned to timbering. Finally, recognizing it was too pretty to mine, Joseph Desloge, scion of a prominent Missouri mining family, donated the land for the park to the state in 1955.

The term "shut-ins" refers to an area where the Black River travels through a bed of hard-to-erode igneous rock, shutting it into a narrow canyon and creating a natural water park in the process.

Jane Lale, director of planning with the division of state parks for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in Jefferson City, Mo., says the age of the park and its subsequent stages of development had her agency looking at its future even before the disaster.