Preservationist maps a path for lovers of rural Missouri

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(MONET) — Over the river and through the woods might be the way to Grandma’s house this holiday- but it’s also a great way to see Missouri, says writer and preservationist Bill Hart.

The second edition of his book “Historic Missouri Roadsides” targets a certain type of traveler, someone willing to take the time to explore.

“I think a unique experience is what most travelers are looking for. They can go to an amusement park anywhere, but discovering little towns and their rich history and the historic sites that go with them are incomparable,” says Hart.

Are these small towns looking for travelers? Hart says as some are losing population, they see their own past as a catalyst for heritage tourism, and are “capturing the past to capture dollars.”

Hart was originally hired by the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation as its first field representative as he says “to preach the gospel of historic preservation to small town Missouri.” Along the way, he kept noticing – and photographing – ramshackle and distinctive buildings.

Now, as executive director of Missouri Preservation, he continues to focus on the fate of small-town Missouri.

“When railroads leave small towns, people leave small towns. When agribusiness buys up small farms, people leave those farms in those small towns. When big-box business stores replace small retail stores, those places close,” Hart told Missourinet. “I do think that by their reinventing themselves as tourist destinations, we can again try to attract some kind of business back to our small towns.”

In this newest edition of Historic Missouri Roadsides, Hart maps out day trips.

“I first had to consider what towns I thought were really fun and interesting to people which also had nice, interconnecting landscapes and contiguous routes,” he explained.

One of those routes is “very out-of-the-way, and ends in the French-founded town of Bonnots Mill…on bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Osage rivers.”

Another trip features the Arcadia Valley towns of Arcadia, Pilot Knob and Ironton, all within a mile of each other. The area has historic buildings, production of Pink Missouri granite and the highest bluff in the state.

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