NEWS STORY: Couple's lives run with Current Feb 21, 2007 13:26:28 GMT -6
Post by Steve King (Admin) on Feb 21, 2007 13:26:28 GMT -6
Despite changes, Gene Maggard says the river is "as good or better" today than 50 years ago.
For the News-leader
Dec. 7, 2006
The more things change, the more they stay the same. True enough, for Gene and Eleanor Maggard, concessionaires on the Current River at Akers in Shannon County for 30-plus years.
The hills still roll with swatches of bright green grazing pasture; the sun settles over the sweeping, mountainous spiny ridge known as Devil's Backbone; the Current takes a serpentine path from its source at Montauk State Park to its end 134 miles south near the Ripley County line.
"All rivers change," says Eleanor from a metal folding chair pointed toward a central gas stove in the couple's Akers Ferry Canoe Rental and Grocery Store.
"The Current changes by a natural process," adds Gene, taking over from his wife of nearly 40 years. "But it's pristine, as good or better today than it was 50 years ago. The Current is blessed in that it's not very disturbed at all."
Gene Maggard has spent a lifetime on the Current. He traces his family's roots definitively to the 1840s. A family cemetery holds the remains of most of his forebears; the headstones sit under tall trees a few miles from the Maggards' store. The Akers Ferry has been manned by a Maggard since 1952.
Patient folks sit on one side of the Current and push a button. Out comes Gene from the store, walking down the steep hill to the water's edge. Gene quickly and easily unhitches the flat, 50-foot-long, 29-ton ferry from its mooring and the flow of the Current pushes the floating bridge 125 feet across the water. He steers the barge to the waiting car on the other side of the stream; the ferry is aided minimally by a small motor. Minutes — and $4 — later, the white SUV is on its way northward, the driver thanking Gene for his help. Gene does this every day, as he has since he was a boy.
Just after Gene was born, his parents, Buck and Loreen Maggard, recognized the need to add to their general store and post office at Akers. Buying a johnboat, the couple rented the vessel to those who wanted to traverse the waterway for sport. Later, Loreen ordered six canoes from a Sears and Roebuck catalog. Today, Gene, 65, and Eleanor, 63, have 424 canoes on the Current and 92 on the Jacks Fork River south of Akers.
Things have changed in other ways over years — decades, centuries — since Gene's family settled into mid-Missouri, Gene says. Some changes were hard to swallow at first: The purchase of the land in this area by the National Parks Service in 1964 left residents near the waterway uncertain. By the time the parks service took over completely in 1973, most fears were allayed.
Other changes have since affected the Current, says Gene, who was instrumental in many of the tweaks via his affiliation with the Professional Paddle Sports and Missouri Canoe and Floaters associations. Gene has served on the board of the national organization for 20 years, including four years as president; he's currently president of the state group.
"We came along about the right time in this industry to make these little changes — or, I guess they're monumental changes," says Gene. "I went to the (local) association meeting and told the guys we needed some kind of bag system. That next summer, we started trash bags." In the mid-1980s, says Maggard, trash bags became required equipment for float trips on the National Scenic Riverway.
"It's probably one of the best things that ever happened to the Ozarks streams, except for the glass bottle breakage bill; Missouri Floaters were instrumental in getting that started," says Maggard of the state law launched a few years ago that bans glass on the riverways.
"I remember growing up, nobody thought about throwing trash in the back yards; 'We'll pick it up next spring.' But people's attitudes have changed. ... Along came the bag, the glass bottle bill, and you now have to have your trash in a closed container. Styrofoam is going to be outlawed on the Current next year. That'll be another good thing."
Gene's dad retired from the store and canoe business by not showing up for work one day, says Gene. Eleanor and Gene's son, Marcus, works the family farm and business along with his folks. Marcus takes the Current as seriously as his parents. He serves on the board of directors for American Outdoors, a group with a mission of conserving and enhancing the quality of outdoor experiences on America's lands and waters.
"We talk about it once in awhile," says Gene of retirement, insisting he and Eleanor will remain in Shannon County. "Marcus will carry on. We'll be kind of like dad, just slide on out of here."