The East Fork of the Black River flows through Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. For nearly one-and-a-half billion years, the Black has eroded a channel down to the purplish volcanic rock called rhyolite, creating a series of rock shoots and channels called a “shut-in.” This is the park’s main attraction, where families have gathered for more than 100 years to play in the pools, chutes and waterfalls created in the ancient stone by the Black River.
The park is named for a Scots-Irish family who settled in the valley in 1829. In 1955, St. Louis native Joseph Desloge bought the land and donated it for a state park. In 2005, a flood nearly wiped out the park, littering the shut-ins with debris; but the pinnacles and other formations withstood the beating.
After the flood, crews, using their hands, cleared rocks smaller than a basketball; larger stones were blasted into manageable sizes. Divers bolted cables to huge underwater boulders, so the rocks could be removed by helicopter. During the flood, these rocks collected in the pools of the shut-ins, creating underwater entrapment hazards where hands and feet could get caught.
The boardwalk and overlooks leading to the shut-ins were rebuilt, but wider. Benches were constructed along the way, using cedar and stone salvaged from the rubble. The boardwalk begins with a mosaic plaza depicting a collared lizard, timber rattlesnake, pileated woodpecker and other natural inhabitants.
Upstream, the Black River had been straightened over the years by agriculture. When the stream-bed was recreated after the flood, bends were added to mimic the natural meandering of the river.
Picnic areas line the river along the slower, shallower portion upstream from the shut-ins. There are campgrounds for tents and RVs, plus six rentable cabins. Swimming and playing in the water are the park’s main attractions. Although the flood was a major disaster, the resulting “repairs” made Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park a much better, family friendly park.
For a good side trip from the shut-ins, drive to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, the highest point in Missouri, at 1,772 feet. Primitive camping, hiking and backpacking trails, an accessible overlook and picnicking are available.