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Ozark Mountain State Park in Branson is renamed, honoring an iconic literary work

Missouri State officials, including Governor Mike Parson, unveil the sign for Shepherd of the Hills State Park in Branson
Michele Skalicky
Missouri State officials, including Governor Mike Parson, unveil the sign for Shepherd of the Hills State Park in Branson

The new name of the property is Shepherd of the Hills State Park.

One of Missouri’s newest state parks, located in southwest Missouri, has already been renamed, and it's not yet open to the public.

The state park previously called Ozark Mountain State Park, established in late 2016 in Branson, is now Shepherd of the Hills State Park. State officials announced the new name at an event and public meeting Wednesday at the park site.

The more than Shepherd of the Hills State Park is named for a book written by Harold Bell Wright and set in the Missouri Ozarks. It’s believed to have started Branson on its way to becoming a major tourist destination.

Curtis Copeland, president of the Society of Ozarkian Hillcrofters, which advocated for the name change, said the new name honors the influence and legacy of Harold Bell Wright, author of "The Shepherd of the Hills."

"He, too, loved these hills, and when he left the Ozarks behind, he left them transformed," said Copeland. "In Harold Bell Wright's novel, 'The Shepherd of the Hills,' these hills became sacred indeed."

Dru Buntin, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said as Missouri celebrates 200 years of statehood, it's important to recognize those who have contributed to the history of the state—like arold Bell Wright.

“In his new book, 'Shepherd of the Hills,' Harold Bell Wright’s description of the region’s beauty detailed not only why he was drawn to the area, but it also caused readers to want to see this area for themselves,” said Buntin.

The new state park, located in the Roark Creek valley, features dolomite glade covered knobs, savanna and woodland areas, springs and streams.

A historic schoolhouse is located on park property. The Garber Schoolhouse opened in January, 1903 and was originally known as the Fronaberger School District, according to Missouri State Parks. A total of 21 structures are located on the land, including a house and a smoke house, both of which date back to the 1920s.

These are the site goals:

  • Preserve the natural and cultural resources located within the park's boundaries
  • Provide recreational opportunities and public use facilities compatible with the park's mission, resources and public needs
  • Provide adequate orientation and interpretive facilities to enhance visitor experience
  • Provide administrative support facilities to ensure successful operation and maintenance of the park

At a recent event at the park, Missouri Governor Mike Parson and park officials unveiled a new sign.
"I understand these hills and hollers and creeks and what it means to grow up in that environment. And I just appreciate...being able to capture this [land] and being able to make it into a park for so many people after us to be able to enjoy this," Parson said.

Missouri State Parks director David Kelly said the first development phase of the 1,011-acre state park could be finished in about two years, allowing the public to use the property for the first time. A funding package for Shepherd of the Hills State Park is expected to go before the Missouri legislature next year.