The deterioration of the well known castle ruins has confirmed that it is moving forward with plans for a structural study to determine what needs to be done to stabilize the popular ruins of the 1922 mansion gutted by fire in 1942.

While the Associated Press recently reported a $200 million maintenance backlog within the Missouri State Parks system, state officials say the two state parks at Lake of the Ozarks are in pretty good shape, though there are two significant projects being studied at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

The deterioration of the well known castle ruins has been reported previously by the Lake Sun, and Missouri State Parks, a division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, has confirmed that it is moving forward with plans for a structural study to determine what needs to be done to stabilize the popular ruins of the 1922 mansion gutted by fire in 1942. The $150,000 study has been budgeted into 2018 fiscal year.

MSP Chief of the Natural Resources Management Section Ken McCarty and MSP Deputy Division Director of Administration Mike Sutherland expressed commitment to evaluating the issues at the ruins and fitting those needs in with the many ongoing maintenance needs among the state’s 56 parks, 35 historic sites and three other recreation and cultural areas.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park is among the state’s most visited parks and was voted fourth best state park in the country by USA Today readers in 2015.

But outside the castle walls, there is another issue that may fly a bit more under the radar for visitors that the state is also working to resolve.

In November, Camdenton resident Rita Martin, a former park employee, raised concerns about Tonka Spring and River Cave. 

The famous spring is especially beloved with the walk out to the spring one of the most popular hikes at the park. The spring is also part of the Ha Ha Tonka legend, lore attributing the name to laughing spring and one of the reasons the Snyder family built their castle in this spot.

According to Martin, the spring is filling up with gravel being washed down from Dry Hollow Road. That is possible because the spring is actually connected underground to River Cave, which lies alongside the gravel county road, Dry Hollow. 

In the last couple of years, gravel has collapsed the back of the cave as well as the stairs leading down to the cave entrance.  

Both the spring and small cave are environmentally important. The cave is home to several species, including a large colony of gray bats. It is their breeding ground.

While the cave used to be open to the public — Martin recalls lighting and 25-cent tours as far back as 1940 — River Cave has been closed to visitors for several years now as are many such caves around the state as a way to protect endangered bat species from white nose syndrome.

Martin is concerned that the state just plans to put up another fence and let it go — a gate has been put up to block the cave entrance which would be dangerous to attempt to enter at this point as the gravel is unstable and a fence has also been put around the castle ruins until the stone blocks can be stabilized.

McCarty and Sutherland acknowledged the gravel and sediment runoff from Dry Hollow into the parallel stream is a problem, and gravel from Dry Hollow Road caught up in storm water runoff is landing in River Cave causing problems for it as well as traveling into the spring. But they say the state is not and does not plan to just let it go. 

Park employees have implemented some temporary stopgaps while working toward a more permanent solution, working in conjunction with Camden County.

Culverts have been placed under Dry Hollow Road to help storm water drain along better channels. A low water crossing downstream on Dry Hollow near a park storage building has been acting as a small dam to catch gravel as long as park employees clean it out prior to significant rainfall events, which they have now been doing, the state officials said.

In the long-term, McCarthy and Sutherland said they are working with Camden County Road & Bridge on a federal community block grant to help fund pavement of Dry Hollow Road.

While MSP works to address these issues, Lake of the Ozarks State Park looks to be in good shape, they said. This most-visited of Missouri state parks has ongoing maintenance needs but nothing outstanding.

Overall, there are a couple of thousand park structures in Missouri, many of which date back to the 1930s. With the large state park system in Missouri, there are always maintenance needs, and the MSP officials said they are constantly evaluating its facilities to maintain them. 

It should be noted that the Associated Press story that included information on the $200 million maintenance backlog for the state park system was centered around four new parks purchased under former Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration and concerns about funding these new parks.

The parks are Ozark Mountain State Park in Taney County; Jay Nixon State Park in Reynolds and Iron counties; and Bryant Creek State Park in Douglas County. A lawsuit has been filed challenging the legality of the fourth park, Eleven Point State Park in Oregon County, according to the AP story.