State Park #23: Route 66 State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

The list of State Parks we hit on our last round of visits included some where we knew what the expectation was, but Route 66 State Park was kind of a wild card: Was it an old timey diner? Was it some preserved roadway from the original Route 66? Was there even a playground at this thing, or camping? On its face, it just seemed radically different from the other State Parks we’ve been visiting.

In many ways, it was pretty different, though we were pretty surprised at how interesting it ended up being! The State Park does commemorate the beginning of the Route 66 path through Missouri, from St. Louis down toward Springfield, however it’s located at this site in particular because it’s actually the site of Times Beach, MO.

In short, back in the early 20th Century, the Meramec River was a popular weekend destination for the air conditioning-less citizens of metro St. Louis, so a lot of little “resort towns” started springing up along its banks. Times Beach was one such resort town, one where a local newspaper advertised $67.50 lots of land upon which little houses could be placed. Neat, right?

Well, some dude decided to coat the gravel roads with oil to knock down the dust back in 1971, but he took the cheap route and acquired the oil from a local pharmaceutical company that made Agent Orange, and sprayed it on the roads of Times Beach. The waste oil ended up containing dioxin, a well-known carcinogen, among other things. It was so bad that the EPA and CDC got involved and declared it a “Superfund” site, so the entire town was razed to the ground and incinerated. As in, the houses, and the roads, had to be incinerated and then buried in mounds that are still on the site. Crazy!

What’s left of the town is there, and some leftover paths that look like they used to be roads, but it’s been paved over as a nice walking and biking space along the river. There wasn’t any camping, but they had fishing, boating, horseback riding, a few picnic areas, and a playground.

The visitor center was pretty good, including exhibits regarding Times Beach, but most of it was Route 66-centric. The bad part is that the visitor center is on the other side of the river from Times Beach, and the only way to actually get across is to take I-44…but the exits aren’t set up correctly, so if you start at the visitor center, you need to take westbound I-44, get off at the next exit, then hop back on eastbound I-44 and get off at a different exit, go under I-44, and then you’re at Times Beach. Frustrating.

There’s an old bridge that they’re hoping to have reach by 2026. The funding to fix it dried up, so all that’s left are the metal girders, waiting to be covered by a walking path or other roadway. Once that’s done, it’ll be quite a bit better!

We enjoyed this one more than we thought we would! Honestly, we spent most of our time at the visitor center, and then just drove around Times Beach. Calvin got out and ran around a bit, but other than that, we didn’t really get out of the car. A neat place to visit, but we probably got as much out of it as we wanted to!