Hiking in history

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Tracing your family roots can be shockingly literal sometimes.

Back in March, I drove down to Stone County to visit my family. Both sides of my family are from the area. My dad grew up in Fifty-Six, which has about as many people as the name implies. My mom grew up “in town” in Mountain View, the county seat.

I don’t have the same connection to the area as my parents do. I didn’t grow up in Stone County. I lived there briefly during my senior year of high school and a few summers in between college, but for most of my life it was just a place we visited to see my grandparents.

When I was home last month, the weather had finally warmed up. My family decided to go on a drive that Sunday, and my parents suggested we check out Blanchard Springs in Fifty-Six. I had been as a kid, but I was too young to remember any of it.

Now that I’ve been back, I won’t be forgetting Blanchard Springs any time soon.

Hiking trails weave through the Ozark woods and lead you to all sorts of scenic views. Flowers were blooming all over the mountainside, making the area look like something out of a fairy tale. My sister, brother-in-law and I ignored popular advice and went chasing waterfalls. We saw at least four that day and stood still just long enough for my mom to get a picture of us in front of each one.

As we hiked through the park, my dad told us about spending summers as a kid running around the hills and swimming in the springs. It felt like he had a story for every rock, tree and creek.

We walked a little farther down the trails to see Mirror Lake, which is so blue you’d think a kid colored the water with crayons. As beautiful as the lake was, the coolest part to me were the ruins of Mitchell’s Mill next to it. My dad told me my great-great-grandfather Steve Mitchell used to run the mill and that the land around Blanchard Springs once belonged to our family.

A nearby sign said Mitchell donated the land to the government so it could be turned into a public park. My parents told me it was more like a mandatory donation. You’ve got to love to the government, right?

As I looked at the remaining walls of the mill, I thought about how my great-great-grandfather once stood in the same place I did. He used to walk along the same creek. He used to get shade from the same trees. Maybe he sat on the same roots I did that day.

I felt closer to a family member I never got to meet. I felt connected to the area in a new way.

I don’t have a lifetime of memories waiting for me in Stone County like my parents do, but I’m excited to go back and keep making new memories there with them.

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Kelby Newcomb is a reporter for the Carroll County News. His email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com.