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Sense of Place: Growing up on the Glade Top Trail

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Megan Burke/ KSMU Radio
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High up in the Ozark Mountains lies a gravel road that spans 23 miles from Ava to Longrun. It’s Missouri’s only National Scenic Byway, and it’s owned by the National Forest Service.

 

As I drive through the thick winding woods, it only takes minutes to notice the abundant wildlife around me.

 

Just a few miles in, I stop at lookout point. There, I see birds, bees and butterflies. I hear rustling in the grass at my feet. I look down and see a black snake quickly slither into the tall grass. A small, brown lizard sits on the wooden fence basking in the sun.

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Credit Megan Burke/ KSMU Radio
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A lizard sits on a log on the Glade Top Trail.

For some, the Glade Top Trail is a favorite spot to see colorful fall foliage, but for one 75-year-old woman, it’s home.

 

Belva “Sharon” Turner was born in 1943. One of seven kids, her family lived in a house on the trail without electricity or running water.

 

“I suppose it was hard times and I never knew any different,” Turner said. “But when I look back on it now, I’m really proud of that heritage that I have living in that era of time—that I know what it was like to be without everything [at the] push of a button. I like the fact that I lived it, I know it.”

 

She speaks fondly of the trail and her memories of growing up there.

 

“You can see for miles. You can even see Arkansas up there at one point, they say,” Turner said.

 

Turner lived on the Glade Top most of her life. In the 60s, she moved to Kansas City for work. But 25 years later, she moved back to her roots in Longrun.

 

She now lives in a wooden house at the very end of the trail.

 

She remembers picnics with her siblings. And then there was the annual Fourth of July ceremony:  a local preacher stood at the pinnacle of the mountain and read the Declaration of Independence to a crowd.

 

She remembers picking wild blackberries, raspberries, and huckleberries which her mother would can over their wood-burning stove.

 

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Credit Megan Burke/ KSMU Radio
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A view from the Glade Top Trail.

Her oldest brother, Ovid, would plow an entire field of Sargo, a type of sugarcane, with a horse by hand as a teenager.

“I can remember walking behind my older brother. I’d walk behind his plow and try to make my feet go in his footsteps. I can remember that, which is really cool.”

 

Wild turkey, deer, and foxes roamed the land;  her brother could easily identify many species of birds.

 

They had horses, hogs and chickens. Turner said the foxes would snatch the chickens in the middle of the day.

 

She remembers navigating treacherous terrain with her sister to bring their cattle back from a neighbor’s pasture.

 

“I probably couldn't walk it today. That was one area that was really beautiful and I’d love to go see it again someday,” Turner said. “I’ve got a few toenails probably up there, ‘cause I had to go barefoot all my life.”

 

Turner went to a one-room schoolhouse high up on the Glade Top Trail.

 

She says in the winter, her dad would wrap her and her sister’s feet and legs in burlap, cow feed bags and tie them off with twine they used to tie up hay bales. She said her teacher would use the wood stove in the middle of the schoolhouse to dry them.  

“We had these little schoolhouse desks. And she would pull them over and dry our burlap bags. And then before we came home, she would wrap our feet up and we’d walk home in the snow,” Turner said.

 

Every year, Turner goes to the Caney Picnic Area along the trail where the Ava Chamber of Commerce hosts a luncheon.

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Credit Megan Burke/ KSMU Radio
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Fall foliage on Glade Top Trail.

 

I ask her if many people she grew up with still live on the trail.

 

She laughs and says “most of them are gone or dead.”

Turner says when she dies, she wants to be buried beside her husband in the cemetery just a hundred feet or so from her front doorstep.

This is where she grew up and where she plans to die. She says she knows the trail better than anyone.

 

“As I’m telling it to you, I can just see each spot that makes it the Glade Top Trail.”