Recognizing the beauty and benefits of living in Central Missouri.

When I consider what’s deluxe here in Missouri, I think about our state parks. We are blessed to have some of the greatest natural scenery, historic sites, and recreation areas in our state, as well as an excellent park service to manage these great assets. With spring here again and warm weather on the way, it’s a perfect time to enjoy the opportunity to visit these great locations.

Here in Jefferson City, the most well-known state park isn’t often thought of as a park. The Missouri Capitol building, better known for being the seat of state government, houses the Missouri State Museum. Since 1978, the first floor has offered exhibits on our cultural and natural history, with a history hall, a resources hall, a veterans gallery, and a foundations gallery. The museum’s collection totals more than 30,000 historical artifacts, ranging from primitive tools to battle flags and a stagecoach. The Jefferson Landing State Historic Site and the Elizabeth Rozier Gallery, just a short walk from the Capitol, also offer engaging historic displays and exhibits.

Two great hiking parks are within a 25-minute drive ofJefferson City. The Clark’s Hill and Norton State Historic Site, just a few miles east of Jeff City, allows visitors to re-trace the steps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with a hike that includes Native American mounds and a lookout built on the spot where William Clark stood in 1804 and surveyed the Missouri River. Closer to Columbia is Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. It offers hiking, biking, horse-back trails, and beautiful scenery, including the namesake Rock Bridge and the famous Devil’s Icebox cave.

With just a little further of a drive, you can experience even more. The Lake of the Ozarks State Park offers boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, camping, and cave tours, and it’s one of the main tourist destinations in the state. A little further past the Lake of the Ozarks is Bennett Springs, which has an excellent trout program that allows the spring to be stocked daily with rainbow trout. It’s one of my favorite fishing spots in the state.

There are several nearby parks that are less well known but just as full of interesting sights and activities. In Hermann, the Deutschheim State Historic Site maintains two buildings that have stood since the early 1840s. Guided tours show the daily lives of German immigrants who first settled the Missouri River Valley in the mid-1800s. The Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site, just north of Sedalia, offers hiking, biking, and a 12,000-square-foot historic lodge built in the early 1900s. The lodge is still furnished with many of the originally installed pieces. It is a window into the deluxe lifestyle of Missourians in the first part of the 20th century.

All these parks rival other parks anywhere in this country. But when it comes to a world-class experience, we have part of it right here in Jefferson City. The Katy Trail, built on the rail bed of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway, stretches 240 miles across the state with 26 trailheads and offers hiking, biking, and horse-back riding. The Katy has been designated a Millennium Legacy Trail, and a section is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

For several years, work has been taking place to add another trail here in Missouri that would connect with the Katy and create a loop with an additional 144 miles of trail to ride. This has been an ongoing process. Donors and supporters have been working for years to make it a reality. In 2019, I sponsored a bill that created an endowment fund for the Rock Island project that allowed private donors to contribute funds to the project. This past December, the state entered into an agreement that will finally bring the Rock Island Trail project to fruition. It will still take several years of fundraising and work, but we are on our way to having the best rails-to-trails park in the nation. I think that’s pretty deluxe.