We’d seen a lot of strange things on our Route 66 road trip, including a 30 foot tall astronaut, a six foot long hot dog, and a giant pink elephant, but none of those road side attractions are nearly as interesting as the story behind Route 66 State Park.
If you don’t know the history behind it, and just happen to be stopping by for a trail hike while traveling along the Mother Road, there isn’t much there to visually indicate the tragedy that eventually lead to the creation of Missouri’s newest state park. But MaMa did a bunch of research before we left for our trip, and we knew before arriving that the park happens to be located on the former site of Times Beach, an unlucky town just 17 miles west of St. Louis, originally founded as a summer resort destination in 1925 on the banks of the Meramec River.
Because of the Great Depression, Times Beach didn’t survive as a resort town, but did eventually become a lower-middle class city, and home to approximately 2,000 residents. In 1972 the town, who’s only paved street was Route 66, hired Russell Bliss, a waste hauler, to oil down the dirt roads, in an effort to control a dust problem. What they didn’t know is he was using oil that was contaminated with Dioxin, a highly toxic by-product, found in waste that Bliss was hauling for the Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company, the producer of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War!
When local horses began dying in stables where the same oil had been sprayed by Bliss, an investigation was begun by the EPA, and eventually the Federal Government bought out the entire town in 1983, and all residents were evacuated in 1985. In 1996-1997, the government removed nearly 300,000 tons of contaminated soil and debris from the site, and everything was incinerated. After that, the 419-acre site was turned over to the State of Missouri, who turned the former town into the Route 66 State Park, which opened in 1999.
I told you it was in interesting story!
Our visit to the park was peaceful and not nearly as intriguing as the story behind the creation of this state park. I was pretty worn out from all of the previous activities from this day and the day before, that I made MaMa carry me for a large chunk of our walk! (This happens a lot, and now you know why they bought a carrier for me!)
While walking we found ourselves under the Route 66 Bridge, which was built in 1932 and crosses the Meramec River. Because of wear and deterioration, the bridge has been closed down for a number of years to all traffic, including pedestrian. There is a group trying to restore it, but if they don’t raise enough money by the end of this year, it will be demolished in 2017. I’m sure glad we got to see it, and hope the group is successful. Here is a link to their go fund me page, if you are interested in making a donation to save this landmark.
All in all, we had a great time at the park and were grateful for a nice time to enjoy nature, and are extremely happy that something so beautiful was made out of something so tragic!