By Debby Woodin

Work is being done behind the scenes to turn Missouri’s tallest continuously flowing natural waterfall — called “the place of the singing waters” by American Indians — into a more accessible park.

Plans that were proposed last fall to build a viewing deck and parking lot at Grand Falls to alleviate traffic problems and other nuisances are still in the works. Actual construction has had to wait, though, on research to ensure that the project stays within legal property boundaries.

The Joplin City Council in October agreed that the city could participate in a joint project with the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center to give people a place to fish or to view the falls. The plan eventually would incorporate walking trails from the nature center upstream at Wildcat Park.

The city does not have a timeline for finishing the work to create the amenities. The Department of Conservation has offered to build an observation and fishing deck there once the go-ahead is given by city officials.

Nearby residents Mark and Jean Matlock have offered to donate land they own near the falls for a parking lot. Parking now is limited to pulling to the side of the road; motorists use private driveways as turnarounds. That practice, and alcohol use, trash dumping, noise and other disruptive conduct have generated complaints over the years.

Joplin police this summer increased patrols in the area to address those complaints.

“If people are engaged in conduct they shouldn’t be, we’re fairly quick to cite,” said police Chief Lane Roberts.

Future work to create public access to the falls is intended to alleviate concerns as well as allow visitors to enjoy the scenic area.

‘Blue bosom’

Grand Falls is listed by the State Historical Society of Missouri as the state’s tallest natural waterfall on a continuously flowing stream. It has historically been a recreational draw for residents as well as a source for utility use, though no accommodations for visitors have existed there for years.

Long after American Indians camped alongside the Shoal Creek waterfall, a power plant was built there shortly before 1890 to provide electricity to area mines.

In the early 1900s, the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which then ran trains to and in Joplin, offered leisure trips to the falls. As a result, a Grand Falls Park was developed by investors. It had a theater that brought in vaudeville acts and a dance floor with live bands that was built as an overhang advertised as hanging “over the blue bosom of Shoal Creek.”

There also were boathouses, and steam yacht and rowboat excursions were available.

Electric companies were formed to operate generators during those years of an ore-mining boom until the ventures consolidated in 1909 to become Empire District Electric Co.

The falls eventually were sold to Joplin Water Works Co., and the city’s drinking-water supply was drawn from the site. The property now is owned by Missouri American Water Co.

Property question

Part of the city’s work to assist in building a new viewing platform at the falls has been to determine where city property lines exist.

“We needed to determine how much we have down there by the falls to do what they want to do,” said David Hertzberg, the city’s public works director.

He said a 1972 lease agreement between the city and the water company allows the city to have property for a park in the area where the viewing platform is proposed, but the boundaries of that land were found to be unclear.

“We had an overlap with the property owner to the south of the city’s property, so we had to determine where the property line runs,” Hertzberg said.

To do that, the city surveyor, Chad Weller, has researched old documents, including a 1907 deed that transferred ownership of the property from Southwest Missouri Light Co. to Consolidated Light, Power and Ice Co., predecessors of Empire District.

Weller has reconciled the documents. The next step is the actual physical survey.

“It’s kind of jigsaw puzzle” to piece it all together, Hertzberg said.

First place

“Grand Falls holds first place in Missouri by having the greatest height of any continuously flowing falls inasmuch as nearly all of the state’s falls are intermittent or ephemeral (flowing only after a rainfall). ...

“These falls are of interest to geologists because they represent an unusually think outcrop (25 feet) of Mississippian chert. Because it is exceptionally resistant, this chert has formed a barrier to erosion and as Shoal Creek flows ... it abruptly plunges 15 feet off this durable valley floor.”

Source: “Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri,” by Thomas Beveridge

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