The Hay Hollow area includes relics and ruins – and appealing routes and trails to explore
Editor’s note: This feature continues the series by Ozark County Times reporter Jessi Dreckman and former reporter Amelia Lamair describing a hidden-away bit of history in the Mark Twin National Forest just north of Ozark County in the community once known as Siloam Springs.
Just across the Ozark-Douglas County line off Highway 14 near its junction and overlay with Highway 181 a few miles northeast of Dora, a small driveway leads off the pavement with a little brown marker just a couple of feet tall imprinted with “FS 759” in white lettering. Following the gravel roadway a mile or so into the woods will lead you to a circular parking area and a kiosk sign that summarizes this tucked-away area’s unique history.
It says, “In the late 1960’s the U.S. Forest Service purchased Hay Hollow from a local gentleman named Walter Braddock who provided cabins and fishing at the lake. Because of this, many people know the Hay Hollow area as ‘Braddock Lake.’ In 1971, a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) camp was established on this site. As the handbook stated at the time, this camp was only available for “mademoiselles” – an all-female camp. Work completed by the YCC crews included habitat improvement, fence construction, trail work and construction of the Ridge Runner National Recreation Trail. The rock wall on the west side of the circle drive was constructed by the YCC. Environmental education and history were part of the YCC’s training while at the camp. In 1980, the site was converted to a co-ed camp, and in 1985 the camp was closed.”
Traces of the past
The first clue to the area’s rich history, the aforementioned rock wall, borders the circle drive. More recent artifacts indicate the wall’s popularity as a spot to sit and enjoy one’s beverage of choice. The road continues a little farther and ends in an additional parking area and an unofficial fire ring. Parts of an old foundation and earthen contact wall can be seen here. This is likely the basement of the house where Walter and Ruby Braddock lived in after opening their lakeside retreat. (See the first installment, “Ruins of farm and resort, hidden away in national forest, pique curiosity,” in the July 18 edition of the Times.)
A short trail to the left leads to what must have been the upper of the two lakes created by the Braddocks before the dam collapsed. Today it is a sunken grassy field filled with wildflowers. A small stream runs through it, and beautiful evergreen trees tower over the one-time fishing lake.
Back at the parking area, a narrow road heads downhill and across the creek. What remains of the lower lake is visible on the right side of the road. The clear blue pool looks to be only a few feet deep, and it’s lined on one side by a small rock bluff. Lush spring plants including phlox, spiderwort, jewelweed and stinging nettles abound.
Not far beyond the lake, the Ridge Runner Trail crosses the wider roadbed. To the left, the trail heads up the hill and continues on to Noblett Lake, about 13 miles away. A right turn onto the trail leads through a wide creek bottom. Tabor Creek is fairly small, but evidence of last year’s flood suggests that it can become a raging river. Luckily, someone has cut a trail through the downed trees and marked the trail with rock cairns. It’s about 9 miles from here to the North Fork Recreation Area on CC Highway. A nice backcountry camp site awaits explorers near the top of the hill.
Traces of the Braddock family homestead can be found a little way east of the trail. During springtime, the sound of running water draws the curious visitor to a stone springhouse high up on the hill. The cellar-like structure appears to have been built around an existing cave or overhang. Inside, cool spring water rushes out of a dark pool created by a concrete dam. This was the pre-electricity “refrigerator” for those who lived here. Dairy products and other perishables were probably stored in this cool, dark spot. Water was also piped from here to the Braddocks’ house, and the spring water was also used to fill water troughs for the Braddocks’ cattle.
Back at the foot of the hill, the ruins of a large rock-walled dairy barn rise out of the underbrush. Mature trees grow out of the former barn’s rooms and stalls, and gooseberries and poison ivy have rooted atop the stone walls.
Across the old road is a large bottom field where the Braddocks grew corn and alfalfa to feed their cows.
Visiting Hay Hollow
The Hay Hollow trailhead is accessed via that Forest Road 759 off of Highway 14 in Douglas County. Both the Ridge Runner National Recreation Trail and the Ozark Trail pass through this section of the Mark Twain National Forest; the two trails overlap for a time at the Hay Hollow trailhead.
The Ridge Runner Trail stretches 9 miles from the Hay Hollow trailhead to the North Fork Recreation Area, known locally as Hammond Camp, and 13 miles to the Noblett Recreation Area trailhead – a challenging 22 miles total. There’s also an 8-mile loop and a 12-mile loop.
The Ozark Trail, open to hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers, provides a more direct 4-mile route to the North Fork Recreation Area then continues on about 7 miles to the Collins Ridge Trailhead. Heading northeast on the Ozark Trail from Hay Hollow, it’s a 16-mile hike or ride to the Pomona Trailhead on P Highway in Douglas County.
Horse, dog and bicycle tracks indicated that the trail was well used this spring. Although the trail is officially closed to motorized vehicles, it was also obvious that ATVs also frequent the area.
Camping is allowed, but no water spigot or bathroom facilities are available. This is one of relatively few spots on the trail that has a reliable year-round water source for filtering. According to a National Forest Service brochure, 334 animal species can be found in the area the Ridge Runner Trail passes through.
Steve Assenmacher, president of the Douglas County Foxtrotters Association, knows the area well. About five years ago, the association was looking for a community project. “The Forest Service approached us – or maybe we approached them – and suggested a few access areas that needed some work. We chose Hay Hollow and wrote a grant through the Rural Schools Initiative,” said Assenmacher.
The Rural Schools Initiative, a program for counties with a high percentage of public land, provided funds for the group to whip the area into shape. The foxtrotter folks went to work clearing brush and hauling in gravel. Then, three years ago, the group received another grant from the Show Me Missouri Backcountry Horsemen to install the informational kiosk sign. The group, which meets every Wednesday for backcountry trail rides, gathers in this area two or three times a year. While the trail riders do some clipping while they’re out riding, the trail is maintained primarily by volunteers with the Ozark Trail Association.