Summer is fine in Lake of the Ozarks
Posted on September 16, 2019
By Paris Wolfe, as seen in The News-Herald
When a family reunion set our sights on southern Missouri, we decided to see more of the state, and Lake of the Ozarks popped onto our radar.
Once there, we quickly found that Lake of the Ozarks is NOT the impoverished, redneck destination portrayed in the popular Netflix series “Ozark.” In fact, if you cruise the lake by water or air, you’ll see multi-million-dollar homes — often second homes — scattered on hillsides above the meandering shoreline.
My partner, Gary, and I got our first big-picture view of those houses and the lake by helicopter. Gary, who flew as a scout/gunner aboard OH6A helicopters in Vietnam, felt uber-comfortable in the four-seat helicopter, so the staff removed the doors before we buzzed skyward. Then, our pilot whirled us over Bagnell Dam, Million Dollar Row, the Grand Glaize Bridge, the Osage Premium Outlets and a few golf courses. The lake, which stretches in many directions and has jagged shorelines, has been nicknamed “The Magic Dragon” for its fanciful shape.
The pilot told me it was perfectly fine to reach out and take pictures — the seatbelt was secure. Funny guy! Heights scare me. So, instead, I sat dead center and white-knuckled a seatback much of the time. Timidly, I unwrapped my fingers from the bar to snap a few not-so-good shots. But I’d do it doorless again.
Lake Ozark Helicopters has been flying its black-and-white helicopters from the Wood’s Grocery Store parking lot for eight years and a total of 11 years in the area. Tours range from a two- to three-minute, 6-mile flight to wine-and-cheese packages or custom options.
For historic perspective on the area, we stopped at the Lake of the Ozarks Visitors Center and Bagnell Dam History Museum inside Willmore Lodge.
Until 1929, the area was merely mountains and ravines traversed by the Osage River. Then, in August 1929, Union Electric Co. of St. Louis started building a 2,543-foot dam; they finished two and a half years later. Think Roaming Shores in Northeast Ohio, only multiplied.
With the lake boasting 54,000 acres of surface area, 1,150 miles of shoreline and stretching 92 miles from end to end, it’s hard to believe the it is manmade and less than 100 years old.
After enjoying the sky view and learning dam history, we took to the water with Ed Franko of Big Ed’s Guide Service. He operates a 21-foot Phoenix bass boat with Lowrance Electronics for fish spotting. His home is a bed and breakfast — Bass & Baskets — at the bottom of a lakeside hill where he docks the boat.
“Big Ed” is like that uncle who’s full of jokes and information. As a fishing guide, he motored us to various shallow fishing spots and pointed out celebrity homes. We had no celebrity and few bass sightings. I didn’t hook a fish, but I learned to cast with — and untangle — a bait-caster reel during the four-hour span.
Most of the time the men were casting about, however, I pointed and clicked my new Nikon camera. The scenery was picturesque, of course.
In the afternoon we traded fishing rods for golf clubs at the Shane Blankenship School of Golf at Old Kinderhook. Blankenship himself has qualified and participated in PGA National Championships.
Our experience with golf is nearly non-existent, but in two hours, the golf pro taught us the awkward angling of arms and legs before swinging at the tee. That’s right. Blankenship’s first advice was to swing for the tee so we would be more inclined to hit the ball and launch it. It worked for me. He videotaped the lesson as a teaching tool. If we’d had more time, we may have strolled about Old Kinderhook or one of the 14 golf courses in the area.
Intermittent rain kiboshed our motorcycling agenda, so we learned about biking opportunities from Tim Jacobsen, executive director of Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau while breakfasting at H. Toad’s Bar and Grill inside Camden on the Lake Resort. Twisty roads through the mountains and waterfront bars and restaurants are significant attractions during the warmest months.
BikeFest, a long September weekend, brings 100,000-plus motorcycles to lakeside communities. Bars and hotels work together to organize entertainment and events for riders during BikeFest. One of those promotions is a “passport” to be stamped during visits to any of 24 bar/restaurants throughout the Lake area during the event.
On our last day at Lake of the Ozarks, we joined a naturalist for a handheld lantern tour of Ozark Caverns. You’re limited to light from the battery-operated lanterns, so the cave gives tourists what feels like a historic experience. It’s a little spooky.
During the visit, we made the mostly remodeled Regalia Hotel & Conference Center in Lake Ozark part of our stay. We also toured the elegant Camden on the Lake Resort as potential lodging for future visits.
Dining options are broad. Perhaps my favorite lunch was at Tucker’s Shuckers, on the strip of rustic bars/restaurants near the Bagnell Dam. (The strip, by the way, is motorcycle-friendly.) The bistro’s claim to fame is fresh oysters and 28 beers on tap, most of them craft brews. The breezy coastal theme suits the lake setting well.
Wobbly Boots Roadhouse is a bit like a sports bar that serves ample plates of barbecue — chicken, pork, beef, turkey and ham. My dinner was a smoky sampler of these regional favorites.
After the barbeque, we finished the night just down the road at Andy’s Frozen Custard, a chain started by a local couple. The signature selection is an Ozark Turtle Sundae, which tempts with vanilla frozen custard covered with hot fudge, crème caramel and roasted pecans as well as a cherry on top.
We could always use more time to explore the culinary scene. It certainly looked promising. And we hope to return some September for BikeFest.