Remarks at the re-opening of Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park

May 22, 2010

Good morning. Thank you all for coming today.

We’re here to celebrate an unprecedented and monumental achievement.

After four years of hard labor, we are witnessing the rebirth of Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.

A billion years of water flowing over rock carved the Shut-Ins.

A man-made catastrophe ravaged this landscape in minutes.

Four springs have come and gone since that bleak December morning when the Taum Sauk reservoir gave way, unleashing a torrent that carried off half of Profitt Mountain and dumped it into the Black River.

What we see today is not so much a resurrection, as a transformation. And it is nothing short of miraculous.

But as I stand here at this moment, I’d be less than truthful if I said I wasn’t feeling some strong – and mixed – emotions.  Like many of you, my personal connection to this bewitchingly beautiful part of Missouri runs deep, back to childhood.  Back to cool water and smooth rock, hot sunshine and bare feet.

That Shut-Ins holds a special place in our hearts and our memory. And there it will remain, unchanged, forever.

We have come to dedicate a different place, a new place –almost as beguiling as the old – where families can hike and bike, swim and stargaze, rest and learn.

We cannot replace what was lost here; the Shut-Ins will never be the same.

But we can, and we will, help it heal.

We’ve already begun.

This new park bears witness to the catastrophe. That is altogether fitting; if we are to learn from the past, the story must be told.

But there are new chapters of its story also to be told, and more being written all around us, at this very moment.

This park is a living monument to the will and determination of hundreds of men and women who literally dug this park out of the muck and mud, and rolled away boulders to return it to the people of Missouri.

It’s a monument to every Scout who planted a tree or  cleared a trail here.

It’s a monument to the divers and designers, biologists and builders… the guys who ran the ‘dozers and the dump trucks… the volunteers, naturalists, business owners…. the many state and federal agencies and conservation groups that helped create this new park.

All of them were guided by the strong and steady hand of Greg Combs. Greg oversaw the tremendous work of our state parks staff in every aspect of the restoration.

On behalf of all Missourians, thank you for being part of the incredible effort to reclaim this treasure.

I’d also like to acknowledge the cooperation of Ameren UE, which took responsibility for its role in this disaster, and tried to make it right.

In the course of geologic time, we can’t know what will become of this place.

Nature can heal, but also destroys … and creates anew. It was a volcano, after all, that laid down the rocks, sculpted by time and the river into the Shut-Ins.

Mankind destroys, but also can heal…and create anew.

A billion years from now, when our bones are fossils locked in the sands of time, and our words lost on the wind, who knows what it will look like?

In the moments allotted to us by the Creator, all we can do is try to be good stewards of these priceless gifts.

We must protect and preserve them, as best we can, in the face of natural disasters, man-made catastrophes – and careless use.

We all share the responsibility for protecting our fields and forests, our wetlands and wild places. We are the first and last defense of Missouri’s plants and animals, down to the lowliest toad and thistle, whose only apparent value is that they are part of God’s creation.

Our time is brief; the charge eternal.

To everyone with us today who had a hand in the rebirth of the Shut-Ins, all of Missouri is in your debt.

And that debt will be repaid, with interest, when the crawdads creep back …when the kingfishers swoop and the mourning cloaks float … and the waters of the Black run clear.

Thank you.