L-A-D Foundation - Land Stewardship in the Missouri Ozark Highlands Since 1962

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Grand Gulf State Park, Oregon County, 159 acres

Grand Gulf photo 1

Description. Grand Gulf State Park sits atop the Central Plateau Region of Missouri, an area the early explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft called “high oak prairies.” It is within the ecoregion known as the Howell-Oregon Counties Oak Woodland Dissected Plain. Centuries ago this region was a mosaic of prairie, savanna, and open oak woodlands.

Known as Missouri's Little Grand Canyon the geological features of this site demonstrate the formation and subsequent collapse of a cave system. The result is a canyon whose nearly vertical walls reach 100 feet or more and whose length reaches 3/4-mile long. The canyon here is deeper than it is wide. The stream, Bussell Branch, drains more than 20 square miles before dropping into the chasm and flows beneath a 200-foot long natural bridge. The natural bridge is the only piece of the cave roof which remains. It connects two loop trails and serves as the path for park visitors to cross the canyon. Bussell Branch continues through the canyon before entering the mouth of the cave which has been blocked by accumulating debris. There the water slowly passes underground before exiting again at Mammoth Spring, about three miles away in Arkansas.

A short, interpretive loop trail including overlooks guides visitors above the gulf, a stairway carries park visitors to the bottom of the gulf. A second loop trail (0.8 mile) across the canyon leads through an interesting old-aged forest whose dominant species in the canopy includes Spanish oak (Quercus falcata), more common in the southeastern United States, it is also found across the lower southern and southeastern counties in Missouri. The word “falcata” refers to the blade of a sword that pitches forward, concave near the hilt but convex near the point. This tree can be easily seen in its natural habitat in Missouri at Grand Gulf and Eleven Point state parks.

The L-A-D Foundation donates its lease of 159 acres of land to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) to manage as a unit of the Missouri State Park System. MoDNR acquired an additional 150 acres. Grand Gulf State Park is a day-use park and includes several small picnic sites, an interpretive kiosk, several other interpretive panels, and pit latrine toilets.

Grand Gulf photo 2
Grand Gulf photo 3

Recognition. In 1971, Grand Gulf was designated a National Natural Landmark; in 1984 the property became a Missouri State Park through a donated lease with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. In July of 1986 a 60-acre portion of the L-A-D Foundation property was designated as a Missouri Natural Area.

Grand Gulf photo 4

At the parking lot is a flagpole and plaque commemorating Dorothy Ellis. In the early 1970s, Dorothy Ellis of Oregon County encouraged Leo Drey to acquire Grand Gulf. She was a driving force for conservation and a “one woman army” in the campaign for the Irish Wilderness. She was an active member of her community, elected to serve as judge of the Oregon County Court for 14 years, and active in supporting restoration of the Greer Mill.

Dorothy was elected to the Board of Directors of the  L-A-D Foundation in 1997, served until her passing in 2016, and was a long-time member of the Grants Committee.

The L-A-D Foundation recognizes other Missouri conservation leaders at its Pioneer Forest offices in Salem, Ball Mill Resurgence Natural Area, Hickory Canyons Natural Area, Rocky Hollow Natural Area, and the naming of our Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry.


Directions. From Highway 63 at Thayer take Route W west about 6 miles to the park entrance.

For more information click: https://mostateparks.com/park/grand-gulf-state-park

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