Get away from the intensity of the everyday work scene and get down to business at one of Missouri’s beautiful and well appointed state parks. Many parks feature meeting and event facilities, overnight accommodations and the sounds of silence instead of cell phones and faxes.
Contributing Editor Michael Humphrey reviews several parks and two historical sites.
By Michael Humphrey
It is perfectly natural to separate your time into categories. Most people spend a good portion of their time mixed up in the bustle of work. Many divide out time for family and friends. And all of us need some time to just get away.
But a handful of state parks in Missouri might help you sneak a little precious R&R into your work time. Six Department of Natural Resources (DNR) state parks have meeting rooms, as do two DNR-run state historical sites. Several of the meeting-friendly parks come with cabins, motels or lodges and several have restaurants that cater to meetings.
You can get away, get your business done and maybe even bring the family. That’s why a state park can make a great spot for an upcoming meeting. It’s not only good for the spirit, it’s great on the budget and may even be advantageous for getting work done.
“Coming here gets people into a different environment, which might make them think differently as well,” says Quinn Kellner, assistant superintendent at Montauk State Park, near Salem. “When you’re in an environment where you can relax, you’re more open to new ideas. So this is especially good for training meetings.”
And fresh thinking isn’t the only benefit, says Terry Smith of Big Lake State Park. Natural environments can offer a chance for sharper thinking.
“We’re on the edge of a 435-acre park with a beautiful lake and forest,” Smith says. “Our meeting room looks right out onto that lake, which is a lot better than looking at a wall, knowing there’s a casino on the other side.”
Then there’s the price. A full day at Big Lake, for instance, costs $75 for space that can hold up to 100 people. That’s the charge for the room from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“(And they can go) later if they need it,” Smith says.
Another piece of good news is that regular business hours are the least sought-after for booking the rooms.
“We are busy on weekends and many evenings,” says Nancy Williams, general manager of the Emory Melton Inn and Conference Center in Roaring River State Park. “But the most available slots are times when meeting planners might want the space, during regular business hours.”
There are no food or room night minimums, and no competition with the meeting next door. It sounds pretty good.
Well, it is. But both Kellner and Smith are quick to point out that their facilities are not meant for everyone.
“We aren’t really set up for high-end business meetings,” Smith says. “We don’t have Internet access or top of the line equipment. Not everybody would fit in this environment.”
Not to mention the fact that timing is key. Most of the state parks close during the winter, although some will reopen for meetings.
And Kellner warns that getting away means just that.
“Cell phone reception here is atrocious,” Kellner says. “Our lodging facilities don’t have phones in them. Compared to what you’re used to in the metro areas, you won’t feel very connected here.”
But if that’s the point – to disconnect – Missouri state parks might be the perfect answer to the call of the wild.
Babler Memorial State Park
Babler State Park may be just 10 miles west of St. Louis, but it’s light years away from the modern mayhem. During breaks from a meeting, attendees can enjoy 13 miles of hiking trails, guided horseback trails, an Olympic-sized pool and a visitor center with exhibits. There’s plenty of room for business as well.
The Gallery can be used for mixers or meetings with its capacity for 50 people. The room comes equipped with tables and chairs and can be rented for $75 per day or $25 per hour. The White Oak Classroom seats 27 people with chairs only, and 15 with both tables and chairs. The classroom is also equipped with a television and VCR for group use and can be reserved for $25 per day. The Owl’s Eye Theater seats 82 and is fitted with a podium, stage, large built-in screen, two television sets and an audio/visual room. The rental fee is $100 per day or $25 per hour.
This state park does not offer lodging outside of camping, but is close to several lodging facilities in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
Bennett Spring State Park
One hundred million gallons of water can’t be wrong – and this famous Missouri spring has attracted visitors for centuries. The park, 12 miles west of Lebanon, is best known for trout fishing and is best avoided during the second Friday in November, when fishermen stand shoulder-to-shoulder for the catch and release season opener.
The rest of the year, there’s plenty of available lodging, including motel rooms, duplex cabins, individual cabins and newly remodeled four-plex units.
A meeting room is located in the rustic 1930s dining lodge. The 60-capacity room can be used as a banquet facility or meeting space. Call for rates.
Big Lake State Park
Located near the Kansas border and not far from Interstate 29, this park is convenient to St. Joseph, Kansas City and all of northwest Missouri. It has the look and feel of an old-fashioned getaway. A swimming pool, with hot showers and a change house, sits next to a modern two-story motel overlooking the lake. The eight housekeeping cabins that dot the shore include air conditioning, fireplaces and screened-in porches. Just eight miles away you’ll find Squaw Creek National Refuge, 7,350 acres that protect 301 bird species, 33 mammal species and 35 reptile and amphibian species.
The meeting space is simple, but it comes with a great view. It also comes with bathrooms just off the conference room, a galley kitchen and three kinds of lighting. An on-site dining lodge can offer reservations or cater the event in the conference room. Off-site catering is also available with permission.
Meramec State Park
573-468-6519 or 1-888- 637-2632
One of the state’s most popular parks, Meramec stretches over 6,896 acres. Explore more than 40 caves, float down the river or throw in a line and kick back while you are not in meetings. Enjoy the Civilian Conservation Corps architecture that is sprinkled throughout the park in the form of picnic areas, shelters, trails, and other facilities. Lodging includes cabins and the Hickory Ridge Motel.
The Hickory Ridge Conference Center can host 125 people for banquets, receptions or meetings. Costs for rental and catering vary – the operators ask planners to call for quotes.
Montauk State Park
573-548-2434 or 1-800-334-6946
Another great trout fishing spot, Montauk also offers excellent trails for casual walks or more challenging hikes. Cabins and motel rooms are all air conditioned and heated. This is one of Missouri’s most relaxing state parks and that reputation has been encouraged with the recent addition of hot top cabins.
The Dorman L. Steelman Lodge offers a store, fishing tackle, snack bar and a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Searcy Building houses the meeting room, which comfortably hosts groups of 30 to 50. Kitchen and restroom facilities are attached. Rates begin at $65 for groups of 1 to 30 and $80 for groups of 30 to 50.
Roaring River State Park
800-334-6946 or 417-847-2330
Deep in the heart of the Ozarks, this beautiful park is one of Missouri’s most sophisticated. Excellent trout fishing, 10 miles of trails and 1930s-era cabins provide an ambience that is hard to match. The Emory Melton Inn is a rustic hotel with 26 guest rooms, including some suites. There are also 26 cabins, most modern.
There are four meeting rooms at the Inn, all of which can be used for groups from 20 to 200. But the policies and prices for the space may be changing, because a new management group is taking over the inn.
“We’ve been assured that the employees will keep their positions,” Williams said, “but the policies of the new management group will change in some ways.”
The Emory Melton Inn in Roaring River State Park is a rustic hotel with 26 guest rooms, including some suites.
State Historical Sites
Scott Joplin House 314-340-5790
Arrow Rock Tavern 660-837-3200
If the wilderness isn’t calling, but you still want a unique meeting space, two State Historical Sites may be able to provide what you need.
The New Rosebud Cafe is part of the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, where the renowned ragtime composer once lived. Rent the entire New Rosebud Cafe with a capacity of 110, or select the Entertainer Music Hall on the first floor or the Cascades Music Room on the second floor. The rooms include pianos and audio-visual equipment. Prices range from $100 to $220, with an hourly charge of $75 after four hours.
The historic Arrow Rock Tavern, off I-70 near Columbia, offers several rooms for luncheons and meeting space, with seating up to 115. Built in 1834, the Tavern is the oldest continually operating restaurant west of the Mississippi.
(Michael Humphrey is a contributing editor form Kansas City.)