A temporary, orange construction fence put in place last year has been removed, and a more permanent wood fence has been constructed as the repairs needed to stabilize the structure will be a long-term project.

A year after a study verified significant instability issues with the landmark castle ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park, state workers have made a barrier around part of the old stone walls more permanent as the agency begins planning how to repair the weathered structure.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, under Missouri State Parks, has appropriated $150,000 in its 2018 fiscal year budget for a study to determine the best way to fix the castle walls, according to DNR Director of Communications Connie Patterson.

Once the study is complete, the state agency will request funding to make the repairs, she said.

“It is our hope that visitors to this area will still get a feel of the grandeur of the castle while we keep the historic structures in Ha Ha Tonka State Park in a stable condition,” Patterson commented.

In the meantime, public access to the ruins is being limited through fencing and signage, cautioning visitors about the unstable structure and prohibiting people from entering the ruins and clambering around on the structure as had been allowed in the past.

A temporary, orange construction fence put in place last year has been removed, and a more permanent wood fence has been constructed as the repairs needed to stabilize the structure will be a long-term project.

According to Patterson, the location of the new wooden fence was determined based on the height of the castle walls and the potential hazard to the public. Brown metal signs with yellow text will replace the current caution signs as soon as they are constructed.

“No one has been hurt by falling stone at the castle to our knowledge. However, in the interest of visitor safety, we are being proactive,” Patterson commented.

Ha Ha Tonka Castle, circa 1922, was ruined in 1942 when a fire raged through the mansion. Abandoned for decades, the ruins and the attached 2,697-acre estate were purchased by the state and opened as a park in 1978.

Displaced stones found at the southern and northern chimneys following a severe storm last year helped prompt a masonry study. While it was initially thought locally that a lightning strike caused the damage, the report indicated that it was unclear whether the movement was due to a strike or whether it was just natural weathering.

The assessment of the gray sandstone walls was completed in spring 2016 by STRATA Architecture Inc. and Pishny Restoration Services. Multiple problems with the stone and mortar were noted in that report.

Despite, and perhaps related to, a stabilization project in the late 1980s, the failure of some mortar and stone as well as the beginning of new areas of potential collapse, especially around some of the famous archways. With mortar failing, loose stones became a hazard for their potential to fall or collapse.

Given that the ruins have been exposed to the elements for 75 years; however, the walls are in fair overall condition, according to the STRATA/Pishny report.

Mortar deterioration and loss was the “most predominant” repair needed, the assessment stated, but two areas of structural instability at the north carriage entrance and the southeast corner chimney should be the focus of the most immediate repairs in order to ensure safety and future stability of the surrounding wall sections. Miscellaneous repairs were recommended for every wall but were not cited as a potential for imminent failure.

Further complicating the issue is the 1980s stabilization project - completed by a now-defunct company - that appears to have used a mortar that was too hard for the strength of the stone. With water forced through the face of the stone instead of through the mortar, erosion of some stones is occurring at the intersection with the mortar, leading to the stone facing being compromised before the mortar joint.

The extent of reinforcement and the type of mortar that was used in the 1980s project is unclear, according to the report.

STRATA/Pishny recommended that a supplemental field analysis be performed by a qualified structural engineer along with a review of existing documentation of previous repairs in comparison to current code requirements, testing to identify the extent of steel reinforcing and masonry reinforcing ties installed in the 1980s and calculating structural strength based on previous stabilizations to determine validity of design. Materials testing of stone and mortar was advised as well.

Immediate repairs recommended in the report for both the castle ruins and the water tower totaled $500,000 with another $165,000 in short term repairs advised.

The primary source of funding for the state park system is half of the dedicated one-tenth-of-one-percent parks, soils and water sales tax, which provides about three-fourths of the division’s budget for operation and development of state parks. All additional funding comes from revenues generated in the state park system and some federal funds.

The tax was first approved by voters in 1984, and has since been reapproved by voters four times in 1988, 1996, 2006 and 2016.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park saw 528,771 visitors in 2015 - the eighth most visited state park in the Missouri system. In 2015, the park also placed fourth in the country in a USA TODAY Best State Parks survey, being beaten out only by two state parks in New York and one in Michigan.