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John Roth Memorial Panel

By: Kathy Atnip
09/18/12 02:59:32 PM

Middle Fork-John Roth Memorial Section
DD Trailhead, Iron County, MO
Dedicated April 2, 2011


In 1976 a group of land owners and stewards met to consider a long distance trail in Missouri, one that would link existing trails and traverse public and private lands. By 1991, over 200 miles had been constructed by land stewards, with plans to extend the trail from St. Louis to Fort Smith, Arkansas, connecting to the Ozark Highlands Trail. But in the late 1990s, large gaps still remained. Few people used the Ozark Trail and even fewer were aware of its existence. Public land for new sections was scarce and a lack of maintenance threatened the future of the trail.

JOHN C. ROTH, 1959-2009

John Roth was a person who built connections and moved forward. A lifelong outdoorsman with an abiding love for the Ozarks, Roth had retired from his successful technology consulting firm at age 39. After a hike on the Ozark Trail in 1998, he complained to the U.S. Forest Service about its overgrown condition. At the suggestion that he help repair the trail, Roth took a crucial step: he appeared at the U.S.F.S. office the next day, ready to dig in.

With Roth out front, the trail and the organization he founded—the Ozark Trail Association—began to flourish as new miles rolled out. Along the way, he carved out a reputation for asking tough questions, forging partnerships, and designing first-rate trails. Roth was awarded a National Trails Award in 2002 and Forest Service Volunteer Awards for 2003, 2005, and posthumously, for 2008. “John Roth was an enthusiastic proponent of the outdoors. As the founder and guiding force of the Ozark Trail Association, he was responsible for completing many miles of new hiking trails and—perhaps more importantly—motivating and involving hundreds of volunteers in the effort.” (Ozark Regional Land Trust, 2009). Roth died in a tragic accident in July 2009, but the fruits of his labor will live on in every mile of beautiful Ozark Trail.


After working on the trail and researching other successful trail systems, John Roth coordinated a proposal to the Ozark Trail Council in 2001. His vision was to position the trail as a lasting resource for generations by supplying a missing link: an enthusiastic volunteer organization to build and maintain the Ozark Trail. In 2002, Roth founded the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) with the mission “to develop, maintain, preserve, promote and protect the rugged natural beauty of the Ozark Trail.” Shepherded by Roth, the OTA grew to include thousands of volunteers, family-oriented trail-building “Mega Events,” and an Adopt-A-Trail program for ongoing maintenance.


Under John Roth’s tireless leadership, the Ozark Trail Association cultivated new collaborations with public and private land managers. At the same time OTA volunteers were repairing the trail and building more. By November 2005, the OTA had completed the Middle Fork section, 28 miles of trail in the upper basin of the Black River. This section also represented a strategic success, closing a longstanding gap in southern Missouri’s scenic Mark Twain National Forest and creating a 225-mile through-trail. With completion of the Middle Fork, the Ozark Trail was a true long-distance trail at last. After Roth’s death, the Ozark Trail Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to name the Middle Fork section of the Ozark Trail—this section that started it all—in Roth’s honor as the Middle Fork-John Roth Memorial Section.


The governor of Missouri proclaimed April 29, 2006 “Ozark Trail Day” to recognize the unique status of this recreational trail and the selfless dedication of the volunteers who build and maintain it. In October 2008, a portion of the trail was presented with the Jessica Terrell Trail Award for its rustic, tranquil setting. In the same year, the Ozark Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail by the U.S Department of Agriculture and the OTA was honored with a U.S.F.S. Volunteer Program Award for the 20-state northeastern region. By 2010, the trail consisted of over 360 total miles. With his passion for the Ozark Trail, Roth created a crossroads, making connections and joining lives. His memory continues to inspire us. All who travel, build, or maintain this trail to the heart of Missouri follow in John Roth’s footsteps.


“Ozark Trail volunteers are the most impressive group of people I've had the pleasure of working beside. Your dedication is inspiring. Your collective work is amazing. Your achievements are stunning. Thank you for turning a once neglected trail into a National Recreation Trail….thank you for making the OTA events the most rewarding experience I've had. Thanks for the memories of the past six years, and the achievements yet to come.”

–John Roth, September 2008