Lovers of the Jacks Fork River, rejoice. Bunker Hill Retreat, the resort that has been exclusively for members of the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) and their guests since 1947, has opened its doors to the general public. You now have access to one of the most beautiful stretches of the river at a comfortable, family-friendly resort that will take you back to your days at scout camp.
Nestled on the banks of the Jacks Fork, downstream from Rymers Landing on a stretch of the river without public access, Bunker Hill Retreat offers a quality outdoor experience in a pristine setting from May through October. The resort sits on 2,080 acres, most of which is undeveloped, serving as a buffer between the modern world and the camp experience. This writer has been going to Bunker Hill since the 1970s and it is still the highlight of her summer.
From fishing camp to teachers' resort
The resort was deeded to MSTA in 1947 by E.T. Behrens, a retired newspaper editor and cigar maker from Sedalia who moved to the wilds of Shannon County in1929 when his doctor told him had six months to live. He was 63.
He found himself on the banks of the Jacks Fork, where a small settlement called Bunker had once been. He cleared a few acres, built a small fishing camp with a few cabins, and communed with nature while proving the doctors wrong. In 1947, at age 81 and in poor health, Behrens deeded his beloved Bunker Hill Resort to the teachers of the state, and died one month later.
The first order of business for MSTA was improving the road to the resort and bringing in electricity. Over the years, more cabins and other buildings were added, Today there are 19 cabins of varying sizes, a dining hall, recreation hall, office and library, plus a quaint one-room schoolhouse and a tiny chapel.
Bunker Hill lies within the boundaries of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Greg and Mary Howell, the resort managers, work closely with the National Park Service to maintain the property in a manner consistent with the park's guidelines.
In 2013, the property was transferred to Friends of Bunker Hill, a non-profit organization created to support, protect and improve Bunker Hill Retreat. The organization has opened the camp to the public.
Summer fun in the Ozarks
What is there to do at Bunker Hill? The river is the number one attraction, and the gravel bar is full most afternoons with families basking in the sun and playing in the water. Free canoes and kayaks are available for use at the resort.
Eating is another prime attraction. You don’t have to cook and clean at Bunker Hill. When the dinner bell rings, you just show up at the dining hall and dig in to family-style meals prepared by local cooks three times a day.
Speaking of the dinner bell, that is a tradition in and of itself. Little kids line up before each meal, waiting to take a turn at ringing the bell. Many of their parents were bell ringers when they were young and are passing on the tradition.
Another long-standing pastime is the ring toss. Kids – and adults – can spend hours tossing the ring and trying to catch it on the hook on the side of the tree. The metallic ping-ping echoes throughout the day as people stop to make a few tosses whenever they pass by.
There are tennis courts, a volleyball court, horseshoe pit, miniature golf course, putting green, children’s playground, and indoor and outdoor shuffleboards. Hiking trails lead to a nearby spring or through the dense woods. On a rainy afternoon, board games in the rec hall or the library help pass the time. Sitting in the rockers in the shade of the front porch awning is a never-ending pleasure. And there is always the lure of the river – many people book float trips on the Jacks Fork or Current rivers.
A creative retreat for writers and photographers will be held Oct. 2-4. On the closing weekend of the season, Oct. 23-25, guest musician Rick Thum plays the hammer dulcimer and Greg Howell slow-cooks his special ribs.
If you want rowdy parties and lots of drinking, then Bunker Hill isn’t for you. If you want a family-friendly atmosphere with down-home cooking and simple, back-to-basics pleasures, Bunker Hill is just the ticket.
When E.T. Behrens was promoting Bunker Hill in the 1940s, he called it “Paradise.” Today’s visitors often use the same word for this peaceful corner of the Ozarks.