417 Magazine: How did you develop a passion for the outdoors?
Carl Bonnell: It really came from my oldest brother. Our parents worked in factories—mostly shoe factories—growing up. My brother went to work building camping trailers after he graduated high school in Indiana, where we lived then, and then when we moved over to Ste. Genevieve, he got on at Hawn State Park. I started out there when I was 16, and I really liked the work. I had plans to go to college and go into mechanical engineering, but I really enjoyed the work I did that summer and the summers after that and decided that I could see myself doing that for a career.
417: What does Table Rock State Park include?
C.B.: We have 356 acres and 157 campsites. We also have about 14 miles of trails in the park, including a 2.2-mile Table Rock Lakeshore trail. There’s a picnic area. We don’t have a designated swim area, but a lot of people will come out and swim in the cove down here at the picnic area. We have a boat launch and 69 boat trailer parking spaces, plus two courtesy docks at the boat launch. There’s also a full-service marina that has pretty much anything you’d want to do.
417: What does your average day at work entail?
C.B.: Most days I’ll start work between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m. I like to make my morning rounds and drive through the park and check on things while a lot of our campers are still sleeping or just waking up. I’ll touch base with our campground hosts stationed in each campground. Then I’ll go through and outline the work we need to accomplish that day, and make any changes if there’s anything urgent that popped up. At 7:30, when most of the rest of our staff comes in, we’ll get together at our shop and go over our plans. The rest of the day can vary with the time of the year. Usually I’m spending some time working on project planning or staffing or budget requests or projects. If there are ever any problems that come up at the park, I’ll go out and try to resolve them. I always try to make myself available to assist our staff.
417: Does the park have any hidden gems?
C.B.: Our White River Valley Trail System has been really big to the Branson area down here, especially with mountain biking. It was the first mountain biking trail to be developed in this area. It’s 11.7 miles long, and it’s a multi-use trail used for hiking and mountain biking, plus there are a lot of trail runners that come and use it. There are four loops that are all connected, and there are three different trailheads. It attracts about 40,000 users per year.
417: Wow, that’s really interesting. Do any of the trails offer any kinds of payoffs?
C.B.: With the rain and stuff we’ve had this year, it’s been nice—there are some really pretty wet-weather waterfalls on the trail. If you want to see waterfalls, go after a rain, and check out the blue loop and the orange loop with connector four.
417: Is the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail part of the White River Valley Trail System?
C.B.: No, it’s its own separate paved trail that runs along the shoreline of the lake. It goes through the Showboat Branson Belle property, the Corps of Engineers property and then down to the Dewey Short Visitor Center. There was a survey done in 2007, and back then there were over 400,000 people a year using the trail.
417: What’s new at Table Rock State Park?
C.B.: We recently built a 30-foot yurt. It’s a full-service, two-bedroom yurt with a full bathroom, a kitchen area and a living room area. We built it ourselves and pretty much did most all the planning on it as well as the interior design work and layout. We’re also opening two platform tent sites this summer. With these, we provide a 10-by-12-foot canvas-type tent that will stay up all the time, then the people just bring camping gear to stay inside of it.
417: How can visitors help preserve the park?
C.B.: Be aware of the rules and regulations that we have in place. It’s a little bit disheartening to go through the park or the picnic area after a busy weekend and see all the trash that has been left lying around. We provide dumpsters, and we even have signs asking people to put their trash in the dumpsters. A lot of that trash people leave out makes its way to the lake. When people expect the park staff to clean up after them, it takes our attention off of other work we’re doing like cleaning the bathrooms or mowing the grass or even working on bigger projects and improvements for the park.
Also, don’t damage the trees. People will come in, and they’ll chop trees down and want to use them for firewood. We don’t allow that, or any gathering of downed timber in our parks. We encourage people to purchase local firewood.
STAY AND PLAY
Think you need an RV or a tent of your own to camp at Table Rock State Park? Think again. The park’s all-new full-service yurt is now open and ready for reservations, and there are a couple of platform tents that will be available soon. To reserve one of these properties for your own adventurous overnight trip, call 1-877-422-6766 or search “Table Rock State Park” at mostateparks.com.