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Source: US State of Missouri

Exploring the District: Dent County

Following a break from my exploration of Missouri’s 16th Senatorial District to honor Veteran’s Day, this week we travel to Dent County. The largest of the five counties in the district, Dent County is also the least populous. Home to 15,500 residents, Dent County was created in 1851 and drawn from portions of Shannon and Crawford counties. It is named for Lewis Dent, an early settler.

Salem is the county seat and largest town, with a population of 5,000. Median household income in 2017 was $38,800. Dent County is home to five public school districts, which range in enrollment from 140 to about 1,400 students. Gently rolling grassland and rugged forests cover nearly equal portions of the county’s 755 square miles.

The discovery of iron ore attracted settlers to the region in the early 19th century and led to the opening of mines and foundries. The Maramec Iron Works, located in present-day Phelps County, produced low-grade “pig iron” for nearly 50 years. The Nova Scotia mine, in southeast Dent County, boasted the world’s-largest charcoal-blast furnace when it opened in 1881. Located in northeast Dent County, the Sligo furnace operated from 1880 until 1923 – the last of the great iron works in the area.

The iron furnaces had a nearly insatiable appetite for fuel. The Nova Scotia furnace consumed more than 5,300 bushels of charcoal – or about 10 acres of timber – every day. During roughly the same time, America’s railroads raced west, creating an enormous demand for wooden cross ties. Dent County was a major supplier of railroad ties.

Following decades of clear cutting, the U.S. government began acquiring over-worked timber land in the Ozarks. Today, the Mark Twain National Forest encompasses some 1.5 million acres of Missouri land, including significant portions of eastern Dent County. With more enlightened logging practices, timber remains an important resource in the Ozarks today. Area loggers, sawmills and wood processors supply railroad ties, barrel staves, oak flooring, pallet lumber, charcoal briquettes and other hardwood products to the nation.

During America’s Great Depression, thousands of men found work with the Civilian Conservation Corps, planting trees, building roads and constructing campground shelters, lodges and other public buildings. In Dent County, CCC camps were located near the town of Boss and at Indian Trail, near the old Sligo mine. You can still see evidence of this work in parks and along roadsides all across the Ozarks.

The Indian Trail Conservation area, in northeast Dent County, includes more than 13,000 acres of reclaimed forests, glades and savannahs. Indian Trail was once home to a Conservation Department game preserve that supplied deer and turkey for wildlife restoration efforts throughout Missouri. The 2,000-acre White River Trace Conservation Area is mostly open ground and is a favorite of upland game hunters.

Montauk State Park, in southwest Dent County, is one of three public trout parks in Missouri and home to a fish hatchery operated by the Conservation Department. The site of a 19th-century grist mill, Montauk was popular with fishermen even before it became a state park in 1926. The 2,900-acre park attracts more than 450,000 visitors every year.

The Montauk Spring and Pigeon Creek form the headwaters of the Current River, one of Missouri’s best-loved float streams. In 1964, Congress created the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national park that includes the Current River and its tributary, the Jack’s Fork River. The first national park established to protect a river, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways encompasses more than 80,000 acres in Dent, Shannon, Carter and Texas Counties.

Visitors can learn about the area’s history at two separate facilities near Salem. A joint effort of state and federal agencies, along with private organizations, the Ozark Natural and Cultural Resource Center celebrates the heritage of the Ozark region. The Bonebrake Center of Nature History schedules regular public events and operates as an outdoor classroom for area schools.

The Dent Commons, an exposition center near Salem, is a regional destination for rodeos, livestock shows and other agricultural events. Each year, the 100 Acre Wood Rally brings national championship-series motorsports to Salem as racers from around the world compete in timed point-to-point runs along 125 miles of dirt and gravel back roads. The Flat Nasty Offroad Park near Jadwin draws extreme off-road enthusiasts from across the Midwest. The 850-acre facility features trails and obstacles to challenge operators of Jeeps, rock crawlers, ATVs and motorcycles.

Rich in history and blessed with natural wonders, Dent County is a vacation and recreation destination for many Missourians, but home to others. Nestled in the heart of the Ozarks, it remains an area that continues to write the history of everyday Missourians living and earning a living from the land and its resources.

It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at for more information.