Frontenac couple attempt to elevate Missouri River country

Missouri State Park

MARTHASVILLE, Mo. (AP) — Nailed into the white wall of the Peers Store about chest high on its front porch is a square piece of metal marking the height of the Missouri River floodwater in 1951. The nail that holds it in place is rusted.

The store sits along the Katy Trail between Marthasville and Treloar, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ( ) reported. It’s about two miles north of the Missouri River along a stretch of landscape in Warren County that Dan Burkhardt believes connects this region’s past with its future.

“If the people in St. Louis understood the beauty and value of what’s out here,” Burkhardt says, “it would lift the spirits of the region.”

Burkhardt and his wife, Connie, consider themselves “dual citizens” of St. Louis and Marthasville. They spend most of the week in their Frontenac home and weekends on their farm down Highway 94 from the old general store. There they grow three varieties of grapes for Missouri wine and raise cattle and chickens. The Peers Store, like much of what they do, is a labor of love.

In 2010, the Burkhardts founded the Katy Land Trust to help preserve land and farming heritage in the rural landscape west of St. Louis along the trail that runs the old route of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Landowners can donate easements to their properties that will make sure they are not developed in the future. The couple bought the Peers Store in 2014 for a similar purpose.

Long run by the Glosemeyer family, it had become run-down and was in danger of being bulldozed.

Now, it’s reconditioned and serves as a conservation outpost of sorts.

Sitting on one of its shelves inside is the Burkhardts latest project, a book that the couple hopes inspires the next generation of conservationists by connecting them to the river that weaves together much of our region’s history.

Called “Growing Up with the River,” the coffee-table book is a piece of historical fiction targeted at younger readers that tells imaginary tales along the real towns that dot the Missouri River from Chesterfield to Washington to Hermann, New Haven, and Dutzow.

The book features an introduction by Missouri History Museum President Fran Levine and an epilogue by Hollywood producer Jon Landau. Artist Bryan Haynes’ colorful illustrations help bring the Missouri landscape to life.

“It’s about getting people to love the river,” Connie Burkhardt says.

The Burkhardts envision a day when the Peers Store and other places like it along the Katy Trail come to life as more St. Louisans, and tourists, look to Missouri River country as a destination.

To that end, Dan is working with the St. Louis Regional Chamber on a tourism study for the Missouri River area. He’s also meeting with some of the civic leaders in small towns along the river about working together to promote business opportunities.

He sits under the pergola on his farm, or has a drink on its highest point – the Burkhardts call it Happy Hour Hill – and thinks big thoughts.

For instance: What if there were a water taxi – think Uber on the Missouri River – to ferry tourists among Hermann and New Haven and Washington? How could the various wineries and bed and breakfasts work together to get tourists to think about exploring the history of the entire region?

The focus on commerce isn’t just about business – though before retirement, Dan did make his living as head of investment banking for Edward Jones – it’s about finding the right motivation to get St. Louisans and others to care more about preserving the Missouri River.

“If people understand that the Missouri River is one the region’s great assets, maybe they will be more sensitive to what happens to it,” Dan says.

That means understanding how the river works.

For instance, Peers Store wasn’t always two miles from the river. Until 1903, Peers was a river town, and the general store was bustling as a key stop when the train came to town. But that flood, like many in the river’s history before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, dammed and channeled it, caused the river to actually move. After the 1903 water receded, Peers was no longer a river town.

Still, the store flooded again in 1941, and 1947, and ’51, ’86, ’93, and ’95. It will flood again, as will the cornfields to its south, where corncobs are harvested and turned into Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipes.

But the floods of today are different from the ones of centuries past because some of the lessons offered in the pages of “Growing Up with the River” have yet to be learned.

Grandpa’s friend explains one of those lessons in chapter nine:

“Levees will protect the stores, houses, and crops in one area,” he tells his friend’s curious grandchildren, who grew up shopping in the Chesterfield Valley, “but it will make the flooding worse in others. The water has to go somewhere.”