MARSHFIELD – Seclusion doesn’t necessarily equal silence, a fact that’s proven at Hidden Waters Nature Park in Marshfield. Despite being tucked away from the world, the park is anything but quiet.
In fact, at times it’s downright loud.
Clear springs rush over rocks to speak; they flow through crooks and crannies, hollowing the ground through years of practice. Birds call their friends, chattering in flight as the wind sings beneath their wings.
Humans, however, are also welcome at the 10-acre oasis in the middle of Marshfield. It’s free for all to enjoy thanks to Dan Beckner, an Ozarks man who loves the land and its springs, and decided to give them to the rest of the world.
His donation, however, involved more than a checkbook. He’s spent nearly 20 years clearing the land by hand: Even today, he still often works in the park a couple of days every week — for free.
“I sort of get tired of people saying, ‘You’re working so hard!’” says Beckner, who will soon celebrate his 80th birthday. “I always tell anyone that says that, ‘I’m not working. It is my recreation.’ I enjoy what I’m doing. And I enjoy seeing the results of what has been done.”
How it began
One of Beckner’s first projects at the park was creating a path. Today, the various routes comprise approximately one mile in length.
Today, the land looks much different from when the project began. Back in the late 1990s, it was completely overgrown — but, even worse, it was slated to become a housing development. That was something Beckner and his wife, Zoe, didn’t want to happen.
“We didn’t want houses to disrupt, tear up or mess up the natural springs, so we bought the available lots that were subdivided and a little additional land on another side,” says Beckner of the park’s original three acres. Back then, Beckner says, the couple didn’t have plans of a park: “We just wanted to save it from being ruined as a natural setting.
Beckner’s longtime enthusiasm for water features especially attracted him to the space, which he started clearing a little at a time. Ponds were expanded, and bridges created. Additionally, “I was making a trail on it,” he says.
It was an action that spurred an idea. “Parks have trails,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, it should be a park.’”
Beckner worked with Marshfield’s alderman to make that a reality. Aided by the late Jack Watters, a city councilman, Marshfield leased the land from Beckner for $1 each year, officially creating the park in March 2003.
“That’s when the original three acres became the park,” says Beckner. “And then it grew from there.”
Growth and development
That growth has been sure and steady. Since it officially began in 2003, the park has grown five times, bringing its total acreage from three to 10. How that expansion happened is something that Beckner says makes him proud.
“I think the thing that means most to me is the fact that it was all but that one little half-acre was developed and done with private funds,” he says. Some of those funds were provided through grants from organizations including the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and the Webster Electric Foundation.
Others, however, were provided through the generosity of local donors — many who, like Beckner, have given time as well as money. Volunteers have been an integral part of the park’s development, both for administrative and hands-on responsibilities.
In 2010, Friends of Hidden Waters, Inc., was formed to oversee the park. Today, the organization jointly owns the park with the city of Marshfield. However, aside from some cutting the grass, “our organization takes care of the entire acreage, and we keep the city informed if there’s problems,” says Beckner.
Contained on all sides — including one boundary that fronts historic Route 66 — the park won’t grow much more in size. However, Beckner is still working towards increasing its reach in other ways.
The non-profit organization purchased a home adjacent to the park in 2016 with the aim of transforming it into a welcome center. However, it will remain a private residence with a renter until the mortgage is paid off. It’s a project that Beckner says he hopes will come to fruition while he’s still around to see it.
“Some wonderful benefactor needs to step in and get a tax deduction so they can get that welcome center going,” says Beckner.
What to see
A variety of plants and flowers line the paths at Hidden Waters.
Hidden Waters isn’t what some might define as a typical park.
Instead of meticulously paved paths, gravel crunches beneath feet. As they explore, visitors are taken across bridges and over the park’s fourteen springs, which flow beneath them. Paths wind around recently revealed stone bluffs, no longer concealed by overgrowth. A pergola draws guests and hosts events. And then there are the budding, blooming aspects that draw nature-enjoying folks as flowers do bees.
“We really just have a combination of wild, native Missouri plants and flowers,” says Beckner. One example he points to are Virginia Bluebells, native to Missouri to despite their name. “Right now I’m in the process of transplanting a lot of these to a big place over there where I’m just going to have them en masse,” says Beckner.
Beckner reaches out to some Virginia Bluebells, native plants which he’s relocating to another part of the park.
There’s isn’t any play equipment — but, if a recent Sunday evening is any indication, kids want to visit anyway.
“It’s fun!” says one youngster when asked why she enjoys coming to the park. Her statement is soon proven when she, along with her siblings, splash in one of the streams. Their family is only one of several in the park on a recent Sunday: Parents and kids, adult children with parents, and hand-holding couples all enjoy the peace of the park.
“It’s a great place in the middle of town,” says Jaon Beckner, nephew of the park’s founder, who enjoys the park regardless of the family connection. He recently visited the park with his wife, Kathy, and aforementioned children splashing in the stream.
Another reason Jaon Beckner says he enjoys the park is its history, which is told in several ways.
One concerns the springs’ start. Local lore says the water initially appeared after Marshfield’s infamous cyclone in 1880, which caused the springs to rise to the surface. However, “in all likelihood, the storm blew all the vines and debris away that covered the springs and they were no longer hidden,” says Beckner.
Later, they attracted industry. A dairy was built on-site, and milk was stored in the springs. Remnants from those days remain, including the foundation of a barn. “That’s going to be our outdoor classroom,” says Beckner. “I hope maybe we can build a stage up there so we could have some dramatic productions.”
The Callaway Cabin, built in 1853, was relocated to Hidden Waters in 2009.
Another tie to history is found through the Callaway Cabin, which lives on the park’s Hunter Addition near Route 66.
The cabin, built in 1853 and one of Webster County’s oldest structures, was relocated to the park in 2009. Today, it serves as a landmark for locals and often draws visitors — both to simply see it, and to use it as a backdrop for photos, gatherings and concerts.
The park’s other historical connection is personal for Beckner, whose family has been part of the area since before Webster County was formed in 1855. When the county began, Beckner’s great-great grandfather actually donated land so the courthouse could be built. But Beckner, while looking through some records at the courthouse, found his ancestor owned other land as well.
“I had made the amazing discovery that my great-great grandfather — William Terrell Burford — used to own the very land that we purchased (for the park),” says Beckner. “I just have a feeling that grandpa is up there being very proud of me that I did the same thing that he did. I gave the land back to the city, and he gave land for the county.”
Ultimately, Beckner hopes that his efforts will keep the work moving forward, even long after he’s gone.
“That’s one of my prayers … that there’ll be enough people with the interest that I’ve had to keep it going,” says Beckner. “And this land can be kept useful and beautiful for the next 50 years — at least.”
Want to visit or contribute?
Hidden Waters Nature Park (716 W. Hubble Dr., Marshfield) is free and open to the public. The next concert in the park — featuring the Finley River Boys — will be held on Sunday, June 11. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.
Want to contribute to the park? Donations may be sent to Hidden Waters Nature Park at P.O. Box 333, Marshfield, MO, 65706. Volunteers are also welcome at a monthly workday. For more information, please call (417) 425-7495.
The curious may also connect with the park on Facebook.