For five days around the Fourth of July, nine kids age 12 and under floated rivers, swam in creeks, caught crawfish and minnows, jumped off bluffs, listened to the midnight call of whip-poor-wills, snorkeled, went fishing, explored, made s'mores and never touched an electronic device once.
The adults were drawn back to a simpler time. We had a campfire every night, cooked hot dogs and hamburgers with charcoal, drank beer, played music, shot fireworks and told stories. It was beautiful.
My whole adult life, I've dreamed of owning and developing a property where my family and friends would gather. I've always kept the classic line from the movie Field of Dreams in mind — "If you build it, they will come." Driftwood Acres has proven the prophecy true. I really hope a tradition has been born.
My family from Indiana and Iowa began rolling into the Ozarks late Friday night. By Saturday evening, there were 20 of us spread out in across my property. The first night campfire rage well into Sunday morning as stories of past excursions and hopes for this one were shared.
On Sunday, we launched for our first float trip of the week at Pulltite on the Current River.
For seven of the kids and almost as many adults, this was their first float. The weather and scenery couldn't have been more beautiful. It's hard to put the Current River into words. Especially when you are explaining it to folks who live in farm country.
Where my guests came from, rivers run slow and muddy, carrying sediment from the flat fields of the agriculture heartland. To try and put the clarity of the Current's water into words is sure to leave people skeptical until they see it for themselves.
With the kids repeatedly swimming through a strong riffle, the adults lounged on a gravel bar and attacked the sandwiches, chips and other snacks we packed for the trip. I could actually see the river changing the people around me. No one was checking their phone. No one was worried about what time it was. No one was concerned about what was taking place tomorrow. The river had captured them and washed away the stress of everyday life. What was happening in that moment, on that gravel bar and in the water was all that mattered. If only more days in our too often hectic lives could be river days.
On Monday, we just hung out in the holler, swam in the creek and made a quick trip to Echo Bluff State Park.
As a Missourian, I have a strong sense of pride in our state parks. We have one of the best systems in the country, no question about it. And now Echo Bluff is an absolutely incredible addition to our parks. I was especially proud to show my parents the park because when I was a kid we spent a lot of time vacationing in the state parks of Indiana. They were incredibly impressed, as is just about everyone I've ever met who has visited the park.
On the 4th, we floated the Jacks Fork from Alley Spring to Eminence.
The Jacks Fork, to me, is one of the best fishing rivers for smallmouth in the state, and my Uncle Tom worked on proving me right. He boated a number of football-sized fish from his kayak. The kids and others caught a few, too. The Jacks Fork is such a gorgeous river and this float was one we took our time with to swim and snorkel in the deeper holes.
After a long day on the water, the kids talked us into a trip to the Dairy Shack in Eminence. Everyone loved the quaint little downtown that was proudly decorated with hundreds of American flags.
I was so proud to introduce my family and friends to so much of the magic of the Ozarks. Float trips and forest excursions aren't the norm for the kids or adults who visited. These youngsters have a story to tell and each of them has expressed to me how much they loved the experience and how they hope to return. One boy had a goal to see how many days he could go without wearing a shirt. He made it four days before we went to a restaurant that required him to break the streak.
My hope is all these kids come to know Driftwood Acres, and it is a place that connects them to a wilderness and wildness, they'll never find on their phone.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler, the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, is an outdoors columnist for Central Missouri Newspapers Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.