Johnson's Shut-ins: Still A Park For All Seasons | St. Louis Public Radio

Johnson's Shut-ins: Still A Park For All Seasons

Apr 3, 2014

The Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park, Missouri’s original, natural water park, is ready for action. That’s what Steph Deidrick, a division information officer for the Missouri State Parks, wants people to know.

Boulders that washed down in the flood remain in what was once the campground.
Credit Linda Lockhart | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s been four years since Johnson’s Shut-ins reopened the park and campgrounds after the area was hit by a devastating flood, caused when AmerernUE’s Taum Sauk reservoir gave way.  The reservoir breach occurred on Dec. 14, 2005, sending approximately 1.3 billion gallons of water down the Proffit Mountain, flooding the park below.

Park restoration and improvements were paid for out of the $177.35 million settlement AmerenUE made to the state of Missouri. 

Although the park is open year-round, things turn especially busy as the weather warms up. This year, visitors are welcome to take in all the park has to offer, including camp sites, hiking trails and the ever-popular shut-ins, where the east fork of the Black River rushes through natural rock formations left behind by ancient volcanoes.

The hard rock shuts in or restricts where the water can go in this state park.
Credit Linda Lockhart | St. Louis Public Radio

The term “shut-in" refers to a place where the river’s breadth is limited by hard rock that is resistant to erosion.

“It’s an original water park,” Deidrick said. Because of the jagged and irregular rock formations, however, visitors are always advised to “use at your own risk.”

The park is about 100 miles southwest of St. Louis, near Lesterville, Mo. It is named for the Johnston family (the "t" was later dropped), who were among early settlers there, Deidrick said. By 1829, they had established a farm in the area that is now the park. Eventually, St. Louis resident Joseph Desloge bought much of the land. He donated it for a state park in 1955.

From the the Scour Trail in the Johnson's Shut-ins park, visitors can see AmerenUE's Taum Sauk Reservoir at the top of the distant mountain.
Credit Provided by Missouri parks

A special feature that developed as a result of the 2005 flooding is the Scour Trail. The two-mile loop takes hikers to the scour channel, which was caused as the rushing water left a stretch of mountainside stripped bare of all trees and soil, leaving newly exposed geology features.

The flooding also left a huge field of boulders in what used to be the park’s campground. In restoring the park, officials decided to leave those boulders where they fell, to show how much rock came down the mountain.

Today, the park also features “evacuation route” signs that direct people to high ground, in case of an emergency. But a spokesman for the utility said that the reservoir was rebuilt in such a way that another failure is highly unlikely.

For more information about Johnson’s Shut-ins visit the state park website.