Missouri State Parks Earn Campers' Appreciation
Amy Hughey had a quick answer when asked how long her family had been going on camping vacations to Missouri state parks.
"A lifetime," she told the Columbia Daily Tribune. "We try to go probably four to five times a year."
Hughey and her husband, Richard, a nuclear power plant operator from Fulton, were tending a campfire near their tents beneath the trees in the campground at Sam A. Baker State Park in southeast Missouri. Their three young sons were standing by with hotdogs on skewers. Sparkling Big Creek was a short walk away across a gravel bar.
"We've been to other state parks," Hughey said. "They're beautiful, but we always go back to Sam A. Baker. The bike trails are wonderful. The creek is crystal clear and not swift.
"We picked a very cold weekend, but we managed in the sleeping bags. It made the fire better."
The Hugheys know what the rest of America's campers recently confirmed. In a nationwide poll at About.com, readers of The New York Times voted Missouri the best state for camping. Montana and Colorado were next in the online voting.
Bill Bryan, director of Missouri state parks, credited the state's diverse geography for its popularity with campers.
"We have a lot of variety," Bryan said. "You can camp one weekend on a flowing stream like the Current River and the next weekend in a prairie. There is a diversity of landscapes that is hard to find elsewhere."
A mild winter and a nice spring have increased the number of campers showing up at state parks, Bryan said.
"Camping trips are up 40 percent this year," Bryan said in mid-May. "It's a great family activity that allows you to get out and enjoy the outdoors at a low cost. You can have as much, or as little, camping gear as you want at a state park."
Missouri has 86 state parks, and about half offer camping. Accommodations range from full-service sites with electricity, sewer and water to 16 parks with hiking trails leading through the forest to backpack camping.
To see what is available or to use the camping reservation system, visit www.mostateparks.com
"Missourians love to camp," Bryan said. "That's why we focus so much of our attention to make sure our campgrounds are ready and waiting."