At the center of Ozark, the course of the Finley River has remained largely unchanged since the turn of the 20th century. Its waters have endured the seasonal algal bloom, a sure sign that pollution has taken its toll as the small town has evolved into a city. Erosion, caused by gravel dredging and the clearing of riparian zones, has also significantly damaged a portion of its stream bank, but it is still free running, with only a slight slow down for a mill pond at the site of the historic Ozark Mill. It's this site that captures a bit of the essence of what the city of Ozark once was.
On Saturday, however, a group of 57 civic-minded and conservation-oriented Ozarkians gathered to begin the restoration of this aquatic treasure. These people, ranging in age from Ozark elementary students to senior citizens, worked together to beautify and showcase the Finley River as the center of this lively community. They celebrated the completion of phase one of a nine phase project designed to focus on the river and to imprint it indelibly on the hearts of all its residents, both old and new.
In a leisurely conversation under the shade of a stately cypress tree near the trail head, I commented to a fellow volunteer that this riverwalk trail will eventually connect to all the tributaries of the Finley River, providing many linear parks and wildlife corridors within the region. Furthermore, this trail will hopefully merge, near the new Ozark Recreational Center, with the old Chadwick rail line, which will carry it out of the Finley River watershed, into the James River watershed, where it will join the extensive Ozark Greenways system in and around Springfield.
I took a lead from Mr. Grubaugh and dreamed of the day when the waters of the Finley River are treasured and again run crystal clear, when its banks are held firmly in place by native forests, and its people join hands on this extended riverwalk park project to connect it and our community, in ecologically sound ways, to surrounding communities.