1,649 views • posted 07/03/2009 • updated 08/24/2023
A Missouri trail advocate, John Roth was a volunteer with the US Forest Service for several years. He is best known for his tremendous work on the the planning and development of the Ozark Trail.
A lifelong outdoorsman with an abiding love for the Missouri Ozarks, John developed a successful technology consulting firm and shared the profits of its sale with employees in 1998. After a hike on the Ozark Trail, he complained to the U.S. Forest Service about its overgrown condition. With the suggestion that he come and help repair the trail, John took a crucial step and appeared at the Federal Forestry Service office the next day, ready to dig in.
After further evaluating the condition of the Ozark Trail, John coordinated a pitch to the Ozark Trail Council in 2001. His vision was to position the trail as a lasting resource for generations and supply a missing link; an enthusiastic volunteer organization to build and maintain the Ozark Trail. In 2002, John co-founded the non for profit Ozark Trail Association (OTA) with the mission to develop, maintain, preserve, promote and protect the rugged natural beauty of the Ozark Trail.
John’s vision was to repair and expand the Ozark Trail so that it might one day rival in popularity of the Appalachian Trail, the nation’s longest marked footpath. With John out in front, the trail and the organization he founded began to flourish as new miles were constructed.
Along the way John carved out a reputation for asking tough questions, cultivating relationships with agencies that included the U.S. Forestry Service, The National Park Service, Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Conservation along with various private land owners and forging those partnerships to benefit the Ozark Trail. At the same time OTA volunteers trained by John were repairing, maintaining, and constructing new segments of trail. By November 2005, truly a strategic success, the Middle Fork section was completed; 28 miles of beautiful trail in the upper basin of the Black River. That section closed a longstanding gap in southern Missouri’s scenic Mark Twain National Forest and creating over 225 miles of through-trail through the Missouri Ozarks, the Ozark Trail was a true long distance trail at last.
Shepherded by Roth, the OTA was also growing to include a multitude of volunteers ranging in age from two to eighty. They were empty nesters, college students, singles, and families with kids and dogs. All volunteering for a day or a weekend of hard work, shared meals, a feeling of community, and sense of accomplishment that some describe as a “runner's high.” Successes over the past several years include weekend family-oriented “Mega Events” for trail building, one day construction and maintenance outings, the development of a successful Adopt-A-Trail program for ongoing maintenance, and volunteer recognition which includes the coveted “Red Jacket” award to which John’s involvement was instrumental.
In 2008, the Ozark Trail was named a National Recreational Trail by the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the OTA was honored with a U.S. Forest Service Volunteer Program Award for the 20-state northeastern region. John was also recognized with Forest Service Volunteer Awards for 2003, 2005 and posthumously, for the 2008 regional Forest Service Volunteer Award for the contributions to the trail that year.
Statistics for what John achieved volunteering for the Ozark Trail Association is one that could probably be doubled and not be close to what John accomplished: 254 events (18 Mega Events) and John was the crew leader/coordinator for most of them. The initial conception of the “Mega Events” went from 17 people in September 2003 to 185 in April 2009. Collectively the amount of hours volunteered by John in the 5 ½ years since he started the OTA is staggering. A total of 1,246 different people have attended events and it is believed that John met every single one.
on July 3, 2009, John died in a tragic accident on his farm near Steeleville, Missouri. After his death the OTA Board of Directors voted unanimously to designate the Middle Fork section of the Ozark Trail, the section that started it all, in John’s honor as “The John Roth Memorial Section of the Middle Fork.” John’s legacy, the expansion of the Ozark Trail from an overgrown, unmarked path to nearly 360 miles of well-maintained multi-use trail through the beautiful Missouri Ozarks is still being honored today. In addition, John created a crossroads by joining lives and making connections. John’s passion for the Ozark Trail is being carried on by the volunteers who are still under his spell, “He was a “Pied Piper of people” with trail building tools as his flute!” remarked one of the OTA volunteers.
Today, the Ozark Trail begins at Missouri’s Onondaga Cave State Park near Leasburg, Missouri and has about 360 miles of mostly wooded, back-country routes. Volunteers for the trail operate out of a home donated by the U. S. Forest Service in Potosi, Missouri.