A River Runs Through It

This article was originally published on 05/11/2011)

Festivals, antiques, the world’s largest gospel music festival. The heart of America. Route 66. Some of the best fly fishing in the country. A trip to Lebanon, Missouri, means that and more. We had the pleasure of spending four days in this verdant, comfortable and friendly area recently and if a vacation filled with good times is in order, consider Lebanon.

The Munger Moss Hotel is an icon on Route 66 and a marvel to behold.

A trip to Lebanon begins with the past – the historic Route 66, a highway system nearly 2,500 miles long established in 1926 that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, passing through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Missouri. Lebanon was an important stop on Route 66. Lebanon’s Route 66 Museum and Research Center is located in the center of town, in a former K-Mart. Local residents had been holding an annual festival for years, exhibiting memorabilia from the bygone days. The Rotary and community leaders got behind the idea of creating a museum and today, visitors can admire many pieces of history in the museum. The Munger-Moss Motel, built in 1946, is a busy respite for travelers wishing to experience the past. Every room is different – and all are clean, neat and a step back in time. Stop by and say hello to owners Bob and Ramona Lehman who happily entertain guests with stories from the ‘good old days.’

A good day on the Niangua.

Today, Lebanon is a destination for antique shoppers. The Heartland Antique Mall, Courtyard Antiques and Dutch’s Antique Parlor are locally owned shops bursting with collectibles. The Route 66 Mall features more than 60 vendors and MacCreed’s Art Gallery is a lovely place to pick up gifts and jewelry. In the fun fact category, Lebanon is home to the world’s largest barrel-making factory, the Independent Stave Company, and is the Aluminum Boat Capital of the World, as home to Tracker, Lowe’s, Landau, Generation 3, Sundancer and

This fly fisherman enjoys the afternoon fishing.

Asagian factories. Harold Bell Wright, author of “The Shepherd of the Hills,” lived in Lebanon. The Brumley Gospel Sing, known as the ‘Granddaddy of Gospel Sings,’ is the largest gospel music festival in the world. The 43rd annual event, Aug. 3-6, 2011, will feature dozens of gospel artists who perform for more than 30,000 gospel music fans. Lebanon is also frequently visited for the outstanding outdoor activities. Bennett Spring State Park, 10 miles west of town, is home to the fourth-largest spring in the state. The 3,100-acre park offers wonderful fishing in the Niangua River, camp sites, clean and affordable rooms and cabins that can be reserved ahead, trails for hiking, picnic grounds and a swimming pool. The Missouri Department of Conservation operates a fish hatchery on site that supplies rainbow and brown trout released throughout the year. There is a great camp store where guests can buy food, supplies, sundries and lots of fishing equipment. The dining lodge, built in 1930 by the CCC, is open March through October. Delicious meals are served with homemade desserts. Wi-Fi is free in the lodge and coming soon in the cabins.

A good day on the Niangua.

Visitors can rent canoes and rafts to get up close and personal with the one million gallons of clear, cool water that flows from the spring each day or look for the deer, raccoon, opossum, armadillos and wild turkeys that live in the park. The Jim Rogers Fly Fishing School is located at the park. Rogers has spent the last 25 years certifying fly fishing instructors. Self-taught, Rogers is a patient and kind teacher who spent the better part of a day showing me how to fly fish. Although the instructions seem relatively simple, it takes years to perfect fly fishing. Rogers’ definition of a perfect fly cast: The acceleration of a the rod tip on a straight line path to an abrupt stop fast enough to straighten the line behind you.

This brick outlook is a charming addition to the fog and the fish on the Niangua.

Whew! Even if you do master the cast, the fish are plenty smart. Standing in the stream, you can see them all around you. And yet, maddeningly, they often do not bite. As I learned, everything must be right: the presentation of the cast and the size, color and shape of the lure. All of these things are dependent on the season, the weather, the light in the sky and, of course, on the fish’s instinct. Every night, the stream is stocked in 21 different places. At daybreak, a siren sounds to begin the day’s fishing and by 8 a.m., many a fisherman is already walking back to his car, filets in a ziplock. I did not coax a fish onto my hook, so I settled for Rogers telling me my cast, my attitude and my listening skills were good! Rogers charges just $150 for a day’s instruction that includes lunch and a lifetime of wisdom. 


One last tip – Be sure to eat at least once at T’s Redneck Steakhouse. It’s hard for a native Texan to admit, but the chicken fried steak at T’s is one of the best we’ve ever had. For complete information, visit www.lebanonmo.org or call toll free 1-866-532-2666.