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Sinking CreekThe Sinks is the only navigable natural tunnel in Missouri. It is about 200 feet long, 30 feet wide, and, depending on the water level, offers just enough clearance for a kayak or canoe to float through.
Head to southern Missouri to see one of the state's natural wonders
When Hellmuth Dwyer was a little girl, she and her four brothers spent every summer on a farm in Shannon County, deep in the heart of the Ozarks. Leaving the city streets of St. Louis behind, they morphed into country kids—riding ponies, swimming in the creek, runningbarefoot, fishing, and learning to love nature and the outdoors.
Today Mary and her husband, Dr. Joseph Dwyer, live on that farm, and Mary is as passionate about the Ozarks as she ever was—maybe more so. She has spent the last three years transforming the farm into a vacation getaway and is now ready to greet guests and share the wonders of Wild Creeks at Sinking Creek Farms.
“This is not a resort, and it’s not a hotel,” says Mary. “It’s an escape to the farm, thefarm that I love and my family loves. We’re hoping that others will love it, too.”
Nestled deep in the hills and hollers of the Ozark Mountains between Salem and Eminence off Highway A, the 2,500-plus acres of Wild Creeks offer visitors a chance to truly get away from it all. Three renovated farmhouses provide comfortable lodgings with all the modern conveniences amid a setting that differs little from what early settlers saw. “This is a working hay farm,” says Mary, “but the woods, hills, caves, creeks, and springs are pure Ozarks.”
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
“We want people to come here and enjoy the farm the way Mother and Daddy did,” says Mary, referring to her late parents, George and Mimi Hellmuth. “Daddy just loved the farm. He was classically educated and traveled the world, but he thought this was the most beautiful place on earth.” George bought the first 80 acres along
Sinking Creek in the early 1950s, and then just kept buying neighboring farms as they came up for sale. After both parents passed away, the kids kept the farm, dividing it up among themselves.
Brother Daniel and his wife, Nicola Macpherson, own and operate Ozark Forest Mushrooms on one section of the property. They also have a vacation rental house, in addition to the ones operated by Mary. Brothers Nicholas and George each own parcels of land, and brother Ted comes to visit often. The love of the farm is being passed down to the new generation. Mary’s five children and seven grandchildren enjoy coming to the farm, just as she did when she was a child. And now the public can come and enjoy it, too.
STAR ATTRACTION: NATURAL TUNNEL
The farm’s main attraction is The Sinks, a natural geological wonder that has beenoff-limits to the public since 1980. As the only navigable natural tunnel in Missouri, it is about 200 feet long, 30 feet wide, and, depending on the water level, offers just enough clearance for a kayak or canoe to float through—although in you may need to duck to keep from hitting your head on the ceiling. On either end of the tunnel is a swimming hole and picnic area.
Sinking Creek flows through the tunnel and was the force responsible for the tunnel’s creation many eons ago. The creek, a crystal clear, spring-fed Ozarks stream, gradually wore away a crevice, enlarging it to cavern dimensions and creating the tunnel, thereby shortening its previous course by more than one-half mile.
Depending on which map you use, the creek may be spelled Sinking or Sinkin, the latter spelling probably simply dropping the “g.” Around the bend from The Sinks is the famed Blue Hole, a swimming hole that has tempted generations of kids with its cool waters on hot summer afternoons.
Sinking Creek flows into the Current River just west of Highway 19. Those who visited Shannon County prior to 1980 probably heard of The Sinks or even camped or swam there. It was pictured on the cover of travel brochures and books and was often called the Emerald Grotto, in reference to the deep-green waters in the tunnel.
The Hellmuth family operated The Sinks campground in the 1960s and ’70s, before closing it to the public in 1980. The old general store and cabins are still there and are on Mary’s to-do list for restoration. In those days, people came for the day or camped overnight, swimming or picnicking at the creek, fishing in the lake, going for pony rides, or taking johnboat rides through the tunnel overflowing with springs and streams.
The karst landscape of the The Sinks area abounds in springs, and there are dozens on the farm. The Dwyers’ farm manager, Bob Cavender, has spent time reclaiming Roaring Spring, one of the largest in the area, from beavers that had taken over. Installing “beaver leveler” pipes in the spring pond to lower the water level encouraged the beavers to move out of the spring pond and into the slough, where they built new dams. “Roaring Spring emerges in the pool of water just up and over from the long beaver dam,” says Mary. “It roared until the beavers buried it under the water some years ago. Now that we have thwarted the beavers with the beaver leveler, we need to make a path over to where the spring comes out and see if we can find our roar again.”
Cavender’s landscape work, including the installation of a suspension bridge, has transformed the Roaring Spring area into a picnic and hiking site. Three springs on the property have been made into lakes. “Every time Daddy saw a spring, he wanted to turn it into a lake. I actually think the spring branches are pretty, but you couldn’t stop Daddy,” she recalls.
In addition to six miles of Sinking Creek frontage, the farm contains a stretch of BarrenFork Creek, which is home to rainbow trout. The creek was stocked with trout in the early 1900s, and they reproduce naturally now in the cold, spring-fed stream.
SEARCHING FOR WILDLIFE AND LOST SILVER
Bird watchers will love the farm. Two bald eagles nested over the winter near the lake and can be seen soaring above Sinking Creek. A trumpeter swan, Canada geese, and ducks make themselves at home on the many lakes.
There’s plenty of other wildlife. Deer and turkey abound. Bobcats have been spotted. A small black bear was photographed last year in a neighbor’s backyard. Hikers will enjoy the scenic overlook trail around the main lake, with a view toward The Sinks. There’s a natural bridge deep in the woods on one part of the farm. For an additional fee, guests can fish in the lakes and Sinking Creek.
For those craving adventure, legends tell of a lost silver cave on the Wild Creeks property. In 1870, a man traveling through the Ozarks discovered a bluish-green substance on a cave wall. He took the substance back home and discovered it was sulphite of silver; thus beginning the quest for the lost silver cave that would span almost 100 years and continues today.
Of course, for those wishing to rest and relax, there are comfortable chairs on the front porches and back decks. With no city lights anywhere nearby, the stars at night are bright and amazing. Nearby are canoe and kayak outfitters on the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, parts of which are protected within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR), the country’s first national river park. Round Spring, Alley Spring, and Big Spring are part of the ONSR, and each is worth a visit. There are several livery stables nearby where you can rent horses for trail rides in the surrounding area.
SECLUDED MODERN COTTAGES
Mary has given a lot of thought to the décor and furnishings of each of the three cottages. The Rock Cabin is a two-person studio, the Walnut House is a four-bedroom farmhouse that can sleep up to 12 people, and the Bald Eagle Cottage is a three-bedroom farmhouse that sleeps up to nine. Each is in a separate part of the farm, so privacy is assured. The Rock Cabin is near the homestead, and guests can watch the workings of the farm on one side or face the peaceful lake on the other side.
Kitchens are fully equipped, and each cottage has an outdoor grill and fire circle;all you need to bring is your food. Modern amenities such as air conditioning and televisions are offered, and if you can’t go without email, you can access free wifi by driving to the main house, Bobcat Lodge. Cell phone reception is next to nil, but the cottage phones can be used for free domestic calls.
“I’ve always wanted to share this with others,” says Mary. “I’m passionate about the Ozarks and this place.”