Get Thee to Lebanon, Mo.

And get there as soon as you can plan your next weekend getaway or week long trip! Whatever route you choose – Interstate 44, Missouri Highways 5, 32, and 64 or by utilizing the great airport facilities that Lebanon has, it should be a must visit place on your list.

Thanks to the City of Lebanon and The Beenders Walker Group, I was recently able to enjoy three wonderful days exploring and enjoying the wonders that Lebanon and the surrounding areas have to offer. For those that are fans of The Mother Road – Route 66 – Lebanon sports an outstanding Route 66 heritage and is rich with Route 66 Landmarks such as the historic Munger Moss Motel – established in 1946 and currently owned and operated by Ramona and Bob Lehman. The charming vintage motor court rooms are maintained as they were during the heyday of Route 66, and Ramona is fountain of information history about not only Route 66, but the entire Lebanon area. Chatting with Ramona is as easy and comfortable as visiting with a favorite neighbor on the porch. Spend a night at the Munger Moss and be transported back to an era of family vacations spent motoring along The Mother Road, taking in the sights, sounds and dining.

And speaking of dining – although I don’t consider myself a foodie – Lebanon could sure turn me into one. The dining opportunities are endless – from succulent smoked meats, steaks, barbecue – to mile-high pies, and world famous cream horns from a local bakery – make sure you arrive in Lebanon with an empty stomach. I couldn’t begin to pick a favorite – but no visit to Lebanon would be complete with out dinner at T’s Redneck Steakhouse, where the menu features a wide variety of steaks, smoked meats, and BBQ – sure to please anyone. Although the portions were huge – and I thoroughly enjoyed an unbelievably thick, moist and tender smoked pork chop accompanied by a sweet spicy pear glaze that’s handcrafted by T’s owner Tina Fears, I couldn’t help myself from taking a bite here and bite there of my dining companions treats of steaks and ribs.

Lebanon sports a gorgeous Civic Center – quite the unexpected find in this small community of friendly folks. Larger cities would be envious of the Kenneth E Cowan Civic Center and the performances and events it hosts throughout the year. The center which opened in 1998 is not only home to Lebanon’s YMCA, it’s also a true multipurpose facility that features exhibit halls, an acoustically perfect theatre, meeting rooms and a NCAA approved lap pool, gym, and wellness center.

For history lovers and Route 66 aficionados Lebanon is the place to be. Every person I encountered seemed to have a story to tell – a bit of the past to share. Lebanon is one of those friendly places that although it offers many things one would expect from a much larger city – it retains a small town friendliness. Folks still wave when they meet you driving down the street and stop to chat when you encounter them on the sidewalk. The shops, galleries and dining establishments are filled with friendly folks who will gladly give you a locals list of favorite must see spots. Even the roads signs at the intersections of the major highways reminded us to “drive friendly.”

One of the most often recommended stops was that of the Route 66 Museum and Research Center located in the Lebanon-Laclede County Library. I am self confessed library and book nerd, with history nerd tendencies. The Route 66 Museum and Research Center was a fascinating place. The research center is filled with any type of information regarding Route 66 that one could ask for. Books, maps, memorabilia, journals, letters and blueprints are maintained and archived in the Research Center and museum. For a true Route 66 aficionado, a single day sitting in the comfortable and well appointed research area pouring through the history bit by bit and piece by piece would hardly be enough. Students, history buffs, authors – all can find the information they need for any project about Route 66 located inside the museum and research center. I could have spent my entire visit to Lebanon pouring through the stacks and stacks of information available at the library. The library also boasts Wi Fi service and a delightful Route 66 themed café where one can grab some coffee and a snack while visiting the museum and research center.

Want to do a little shopping? Visit the Shepherd Hills Outlet – a family owned and operated outlet store featuring a huge and eclectic variety of items. Denby walnut bowls, Case knives, Chicago Cutlery are just few of the brands represented in this huge facility. More than 300 tour buses annually make a stop at the Shepherd Hills Outlet a must do activity and so should you. I dare you to leave empty handed and bargain-less – it just isn’t possible!

Marjorie Beenders and Lisa Metheny work on their art projects, while Bill Bowers (WOMA board member and editor extraordinaire) slaves away behind them.

For the art and antique lover in you – A visit to the Lebanon Art Guild Studio and Gallery as well as MacCreeds Art Gallery also must be put on the list of stops. At the Guild’s studio and art gallery not only can one shop for beautiful hand crafted work from local artists and artisans, but also the opportunity to watch artists at work in the studio space is not only possible, but probable and encouraged. As an Art Guild member in my own community I found myself gazing longingly at the space that houses the guild’s studio and gallery, not only in terms of a gallery but as a supportive artist’s studio space where I was able to try my hand painting under the direction of renowned mural artist Roberto Regalado, and practice my sketch journaling abilities under the tutelage of Mary Kathleen Gainey.

The arts scene in Lebanon is not only lively and thriving, it is a breath of artistic fresh air in the Heartland. For those who prefer to just shop for beautiful original works of art from not only local artists, but also from a variety of national and international artists, schedule a visit to MacCreeds Art Gallery – conveniently located on Hwy 64 on the way to Bennett Spring State Park. The setting at MacCreed’s is gorgeous with comfortable outdoor seating where one can enjoy a rest while surrounded by beautiful outdoor art installations as well as music, and various special events that are frequently hosted by gallery owners Virgil and Sandra McCormack. The McCormick’s bring an array of art with multiple mediums, pottery, jewelry, children’s books and inspirational gifts to the gallery.

Also located conveniently located along Hwy 64 along the route to Bennett Spring is the beautifully appointed Sturdevant Acres Bed and Breakfast. Newly completed in 2004, it is a Southern style, turn-of-the-century-type home. The four rooms that are available, each with full bathrooms, take on a theme of their own. The themes include, of course, an homage to Route 66, a historically appointed Civil War room, and my personal favorite the Victorian room – complete with a huge clawfoot tub that just begs you to hop in and soak your cares away. A library and formal dining room are also available for guests’ enjoyment. Peaceful accommodations, delicious and elegantly served meals, and a relaxing country setting that will have your soul saying “ahhhhh” as soon as you step from your car in the lovingly landscaped front yard awaits. The upper deck is a great place to sit and watch the sunset. You may even see some wildlife. For early risers, the beautiful and spacious porch provides the perfect spot for watching the sunrise.

No trip to the Lebanon area would begin to be complete with at least a day exploring Bennett Spring State Park and the surrounding natural areas filled with trails and gurgling, giggling, clear as gin, cold water streams and rivers fed by the many springs in the area. Comprised of 3216 acres of diverse Ozark wood hills Bennett Spring is the third most-visited state park in Missouri and for good reason!

One may enjoy 12 miles of hiking trails, Niangua River float trips, a fascinating Interpretive Center staffed by knowledgeable, friendly folks who will gladly share with you the best areas to find wildlife, bird watch, and search for edible plants and fungi. Every staff member I encountered during my stay at Bennett Spring was dedicated to helping visitors have the best visit regardless of what one’s particular outdoor passion is.

Although any outdoor enthusiast can find a great experience at Bennett Spring, it’s most well known for its trout fishing opportunities. Bennett Spring is home to the Bennett Spring Hatchery that releases approximately 3,000 brown and rainbow trout into the clear cold waters of the Niangua river each day. When the morning trout whistle blows at 0630 during the summer season – the banks are lined with anglers vying for a memory-making experience catching one of the beautiful trout that can also be viewed at the hatchery itself.

Not an experienced trout angler? Not a problem at Bennett Spring. The park store offers not only every conceivable type of equipment you might wish to purchase, it also rents a wide variety of equipment you might need during your visit. Park concessionaire Jim Rogers, a master-casting instructor is available for both fly fishing and fly tying lessons. Jim operates the Jim Rogers Fly Fishing School at the park and is a wealth of information. Jim, along with his wife, Carmen, and the staff will go out of their way to insure you have successful fishing trip and visit to the area.

After catching one the beautiful trout that literally fill the river at Bennett Spring, one can take the trout to the dining lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), in a rustic yet elegant style typical of CCC lodges, and have it specially prepared to your liking by the talented staff there.

Bennett Spring also offers a wide variety of accommodations – from primitive campsite to comfortable cabins and condos with kitchenettes. If camping isn’t your choice, sharing a condo or cabin with traveling companions can make for a very affordable getaway to one of the premiere trout fishing spots in Missouri.

The WOMA member Tammy Ballew is on the far left, casting into the pristine waters at Bennett Spring State Park.

If floating is more your idea of great visit to the Niangua River, Brian Wilson, proprietor of One Eyed Willy’s, along with his mascots (English bulldogs), will assist you in having an enjoyable float experience with canoe, tube and raft rentals, cabins, campgrounds and a sand bar snack shack featuring a delectable selection of superb smoked meats from BrickHouse Smoked Meats in addition to regular sandwiches and drinks. The friendly tail wiggling welcome from mascot dog Willie and his companions is just a bonus for any dog lover in your crowd.

This year when you are planning that summer family vacation – take a close look at Lebanon, Mo. A city small enough to retain its friendly and welcoming nature, yet chock full of activities for every member of the family! You won’t be disappointed! Lebanon is home to little bit of this and little bit of that, friendly people, and enough activities to make any getaway whether week long or just a weekend escape worth the trip!

For more information about the City of Lebanon and all it has to offer contact Gail Bryant, Director of Tourism for City of Lebanon at 866 LEBANON or visit the Lebanon’s website at www.lebanonmissouri.org.

Gail’s warm friendly personality personifies Lebanon’s slogan “Friendly People, Friendly Place” and her office will be glad to help you plan a trip that will insure a great visit for everyone in your group, no matter how varied your interests. ~ Gretchen Steele

Gretchen Steele, a photographer from southern Illinois,  has been traversing the wild spaces of Illinois since her childhood. She retired as Public
Health Nurse in 2003 to pursue her passion of outdoor and wildlife photography full time. Her award
winning work has been featured in many outdoor media outlets, and has been exhibited in various
venues across the nation. A lifetime of wild crafting and wild foraging has made Gretchen a well
respected authority on Illinois edible and medicinal wild plants and fungi.
Gretchen is a Pro Staff Member and Photographer for Southern Illinois Outdoors, Down River Outdoors,
Silver Creek Hunt Club, and Muddy River Shooting Preserve. She is a Featured Photographer with several
other outdoor media groups including Illinois Hunter, Prairie State Outdoors, and Illinois Outdoor News.
Gretchen also serves as a guide and speaker for various photography clubs and organizations wishing to
explore the world of outdoor and nature photography. She host several outdoor photography tours
each year and biannual outdoor photography workshops. Additionally Gretchen serves as a speaker
throughout Southern Illinois as an advocate for women in the outdoors, the benefits of outdoor time,
and various hunting, fishing, and outdoor sports.

In addition to serving as contributing writer and photographer in the print market Gretchen authors two
outdoor related blogs :   http://siloforests.blogspot.com/ ‐ In the Forests and The Fields and
http://www.prairiestateoutdoors.com/index.php?/gretchens/ ‐ Through the Lens

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