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National Park Road Trip 2011: The Cabins At Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Big Spring pumps out some 300 million gallons of water a day at Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: Having left Buffalo National River behind, David and Kay Scott discover they couldn't flee the heat and humidity at Ozark National Scenic Riverways, where they checked in the other day to check out the lodging for an update to their book, The Complete Guide To the National Park Lodges.

The heat and humidity we have encountered during the last week continue here at Ozark National Scenic Riverways in southeast Missouri.  Fortunately, it is cool beside Big Spring, which pumps cool water at a rate of 300 million gallons per day.  The spring water flows into the Current River a short distance from here. 

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This is one of the stone and timber cabins at Big Spring Lodge in Ozark National and Scenic Riverways. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Unfortunately, it is sort of miserable most everyplace else.    

The 134 miles of free-flowing Jacks Fork and Current rivers were authorized in 1964 as the first national scenic riverways.  These rivers are largely spring-fed and meander through some beautiful rolling and heavily forested hills here in the Ozarks. 

The springs are fed by surface streams and creeks that flow through cracks in bedrock to form underground rivers.  The springs spout where underground rivers burst to the surface.  According to the National Park Service, Ozark National Scenic Riverways has more large springs in one area than anywhere else on Earth.   

The rivers are particularly popular with visitors who wish to canoe, kayak, or tube.  Nearly 20 concessionaires rent watercraft and provide shuttle service. 

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This is one of the simpler frame cabins. Photo by David and Kay Scott

A half-dozen campgrounds are scattered along the rivers, with the two largest being at Alley Spring and Big Spring.  Most campgrounds have showers, a real bonus during the dog days of summer.  Park headquarters is in the small town of Van Buren, Missouri.    

Big Spring Lodge and Cabins, the only lodging facility inside the park, is located along the lower Current River, four miles south of Van Buren.   Here travelers will find a historic registration/dining building plus 14 freestanding cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (later, the Works Progress Administration) from 1934 to 1938.    

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The interiors of the cabins are quite handsome with their stonework. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The cabins are of different construction and size, but all sit on a forested hillside with plenty of wooded space between units.  They each have a private bathroom and a screened porch. The oldest cabins were constructed of oak timbers and stone, while later cabins were of frame construction. 

Cabin sizes vary considerably and rental cost depends on cabin size, not the number of occupants.  Most cabins rent for $80 per night, with three smaller cabins renting for only $65.  Large cabins rent for $120.  

The cabins vary in several respects other than size.  For example, some cabins have air-conditioning, while others do not.  Some cabins have kitchens and some do not. Some require more steps to enter.

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This dining hall and registration office are in one building. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

If you decide to visit Big Spring Lodge and Cabins be certain to tell the reservation person the type cabin you desire.   

During our stop we chatted with Kim Davenport, who has held the concession here for eight years and seems to really enjoy her work.  This is the final year of her contract, which runs through October.  She currently pays the NPS a franchise fee of 5 percent of revenues.

Unlike many other concession agreements, there is no separate fee for maintenance and repair.  Under her agreement, she is required to shoulder much of the regular maintenance.  To date, the NPS has not issued a final prospectus for a new contract, which seems to indicate an extension of the current agreement may be in the works.    

The cabins at Big Spring are open from March through November. 

The cozy dining room that serves three meals a day at inexpensive prices is open during the same period.  One of the highest priced items on the dinner menu was a New York strip steak with salad and baked potato for $17.  Hamburgers are $4.45.    

We are now off to Mammoth Cave Hotel in Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, that will be the subject of our next report.  It looks like more hot and humid weather with heat indexes above 100 degrees.

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We love Mammoth Cave!  You'll cool off if you take a cave tour.  Never over 55 degrees inside the ground.

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