by Kaitlyn McConnell
Nearly every week, I explore our Ozarks blacktop and crunchy-gravel backroads in search of stories. Nowadays, I’ve noticed something: It seems items are littering the roadsides — of even the most remote areas — at increasing rates.
The items I see, though, aren’t necessarily trash.
They’re “for sale” signs.
Obviously, land has always been for sale, and outward development from growing towns and cities isn’t new.
But as I see these “for sale” signs popping up — both in front of homes and wide acres of farmland — it feels like we’re on the wave of a new phase of the Ozarks. A new phase that will (albeit slowly) change our landscape, but change it to a state that can never go back to what we have now.
This perceived increase is just one opinion, of course, and could be considered a fluke for numerous reasons. Maybe this is just a randomly high time for sales; or maybe I’m just more aware than I have been in the past.
But it really doesn’t feel that way.
I see farmland being sold and subdivided; what were formerly forever high grassy hillsides are being topped with homes. Falling-down barns, once firm and strong in their heyday of life, sadly wave goodbye as their boards and tin roofs flap in the wind.
I think of this even in my own life. I grew up on a family farm several miles from Marshfield. For much of my life, we passed far more fields than homes as we drove out from town. The homes that did exist were ones that had seen Ozarks families within their walls for many years.
Over my lifetime, however, slow change has given the hills — formerly sprinkled with cows, or perhaps a lonely hay shed — houses scattered like pins dropped on a map.
Of course, change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, those who choose to move to the Ozarks countryside obviously appreciate the shining beauty that comes anew with the sun every morning.
But this is another change, one far more drastic than the look that comes with changing seasons, and one that will undeniably alter the way this region looks.
As more dirt trails turn to gravel, and more gravel turns to blacktop, and more homes come to the hills, the Ozarks will look different.
I think there are a few things we can take from this realization. One is the importance of our state parks and conservation areas. While it might feel that these are redundant — why do you need a park when much of the Ozarks backcountry looks like one? — it is important to protect these lands for a time when that fact may not be the case.
But beyond that, let’s take the chance to appreciate our hills and hollows while many of them are still free from development. The cost of gasoline is little in exchange for wandering and wondering along our backroads — and the peace and serenity a drive can give is, in many cases, worth more than having a destination.
Such rewards will become even sweeter years from now, when you — and your children — can remember an Ozarks that was far less developed than it may be in the future.
(This was originally published on Ozarks Alive! and is republished with permission of the author.)