Missouri News

Effort under way to install courtesy dock near Mark Twain's birth site

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 23, 2019 10:20 pm

FLORIDA, Mo. -- The Missouri Division of State Parks is exploring the feasibility of installing a courtesy dock near the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site at Mark Twain Lake.

If the project moves ahead and gets approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the courtesy dock would give boaters a safe place to park their boats so they could walk a new pathway leading to the historic site and other nearby attractions in the hamlet of Florida.

"This is all preliminary right now," said Jack Winburn, regional director for the Division of State Parks -- a branch of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

"We're not sure this will actually go through," Winburn said. "But we're interested in seeing if it's feasible."

The Division of State Parks got involved in the proposed project at the request of Warren Hagan, a member of the Friends of Florida organization, which strives to preserve and celebrate the town's history while attracting more tourists to Florida.

Hagan thinks the western side of Mark Twain Lake has been neglected since the lake was created in the early 1980s. Although several attempts have been made over the years to give private developers an opportunity to launch new marinas or lodging operations at the lake, concrete plans have never gotten off the ground.

As it stands, the only commercial ventures are Blackjack Marina and Indian Creek Marina, both of which serve the eastern side of the lake.

"We feel like it's time to put something in Florida," Hagan said.

The proposed courtesy dock would not be a full-fledged marina. Instead, it would simply offer temporary docking slips for up to eight boats. Four additional boats could tie up to the outer edges, Winburn said.

The Division of State Parks already has such a dock available that "we will be taking out of another lake" in northern Missouri, Winburn said.

State park officials are trying to determine the practicality of placing the dock somewhere in the vicinity of the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site. If one of several targeted sites is deemed feasible, the division would then study the costs involved in developing a path from the courtesy dock to the historic site, which is located within the confines of Mark Twain State Park.

If the Division of State Parks decides to pursue the courtesy dock project, Winburn said, "we would be contacting the Corps of Engineers and working with them to try to get something agreeable where we could do this."

The Friends of Hannibal, meanwhile, will be trying to get a grant to help finance the improvements.

Hagan, a physician and owner of a Florida winery, has been a longtime promoter of Florida. He not only wants to see a courtesy dock installed to give boaters greater access to the town and historic site, but he'd also like to see a kayaking trail developed in the Florida area -- starting at the courtesy dock.

"We would be willing to look at that, but we don't own the lake," Winburn said. "We would have to work with the Corps of Engineers and see if that would be feasible also."

Hagan said he's glad the Division of State Parks is giving serious consideration to the courtesy dock proposal because he feels it's important that people who go boating on Mark Twain Lake "can see something other than Blackjack Marina and Indian Creek."

He feels Florida is a natural tourist destination because the Monroe County community is known worldwide as the birthplace of Samuel L. Clemens, the author who achieved international fame with the pen name Mark Twain.

Twain was born in Florida on Nov. 30, 1835, and lived there about four years until his family moved to Hannibal, where Twain spent the remainder of his boyhood years.

The two-room clapboard cabin in which Twain was born is preserved inside the Mark Twain Memorial Shrine a quarter-mile from the cabin's original location, now marked with a granite monument. The shrine, which opened in June 1960, is the centerpiece of the historic site, which offers a museum celebrating Twain's life.

But Florida has other things to offer visitors, as well.

"We have recreational trails. We have a winery. We have lodging," Hagan said. "There were two battles in the Civil War -- one in 1861 and one in 1862. And there are Indian mounds, and then there's an old one-room school that the Friends of Florida owns and maintains."

Florida is situated at what was once the confluence of the North Fork and the South Fork of the Salt River. After Mark Twain Lake was formed in 1983 by the construction of Clarence Cannon Dam, the town was suddenly flanked on three sides by a sea of water.

"Florida's history has always been keenly tied to water navigation," Hagan said.

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