Eagle Hurst Ranch provides a real family vacation

LISA JOHNSTON | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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Take a family vacation where "family" is the focus -- Eagle Hurst Ranch in Steelville.

"We're a family place," explained Norbert Butz, a member of the extended family that bought Eagle Hurst in 2003. "Everything is designed for families. This is a place where parents can bring their children and relax, and everyone can enjoy themselves."

The Eagle Hurst owners include Butz and his wife Elaine, who are members of Seven Holy Founders Parish in Affton; their son Steve Butz and his wife Angie, members of St. Stephen Protomartyr Parish in south St. Louis; and their son John Butz and his wife Trish, members of St. Patrick Parish in Rolla, Mo. The Butzes are a large family; other members have also been involved in Eagle Hurst.

Eagle Hurst Ranch is less than a two-hour drive south of St. Louis, an old-fashioned vacation spot with modern amenities, located on a wooded 70-acre campus in the Ozarks. Nearby flows the Huzzah River, one of the state's best float streams.

"We have 30 cabins," Butz said, pointing out up-to-date bathrooms, screened porches -- "every cabin has a screened-in porch," he said -- and air-conditioning. "Oh, you have to have the air-conditioning," he said. "You can't survive the summer here without air conditioning."

Not that you always need it. A dip in the cool waters of the Huzzah will make any hot summer day better. The river flows down the hill behind the largest cabin, the Laurel House, which has four bedrooms, two baths, a living room, fireplace, porch overlooking the Huzzah River and a small kitchen. It's the only cabin with a kitchen, because part of the joys of vacationing at Eagle Hurst is the vacation from cooking.

"We serve three meals a day, on china, no paper plates, family style in our dining room," Butz said. "We have some great cooks, lots of fruits and vegetables, good quality meat. We pride ourselves on our food."

The food is served by the staff, which includes youths from the Steelville area and St. Louis, including younger members of the Butz family. "We have grandchildren who work here," Butz said. A few of his granddaughters lead arts and crafts sessions for what Butz called "the little kids" in a small building near the Laurels.

Most of the cabins at Eagle Hurst are "family cabins," but there are four smaller economy cabins as well. "Every cabin is named after a different tree," Butz added. There is a two-day minimum stay. Since the Butz family purchased Eagle Hurst, they've put in new plumbing, water heaters and amenities in all the cabins.The grounds surrounding the cabins are well-cared for, with large lovely hostas and other attractive plantings.

"It needed quite a bit of work when we bought it," said Butz, who had just retired from the Crawford-Butz Insurance Agency he had co-founded and which Steve Butz and his brother Michael now run. Butz said, "I retired from from the insurance agency and was looking to travel. Instead I started a second career. I've never worked so hard in my life," he said, "but it's a lot of fun. I really like it."

The Butz family was familiar with Eagle Hurst and the area. Eagle Hurst goes back many years, Butz said. "We used to bring our children down here," he said, adding that they couldn't bring all 11 children in one car. "The first time I saw the place was in 1953, after I graduated from CBC High School." After a stint in the Marine Corps, he married Elaine and "I started to bring my family down. Eventually Steve started to bring his own family down."

Elaine Butz has roots in nearby Washington County. Her maiden name was Bourisaw and her father's family came from Old Mines. "My father grew up in St. Joachim Parish, and he was almost 14 before he spoke English. They only spoke French. My sisters and I used to spend summers with family in Old Mines and go visit the 'big town of Potosi.'"

Among the many activities available to guests are volleyball, softball, tennis, bocce ball, badminton and shuffleboard. There's fishing in the Huzzah, home to bluegill, small mouth bass and catfish, and a game room, with ping pong and pool tables, decorated with photos of old St. Louis Cardinal baseball greats, including a smiling Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial. "In the 1930s and 40s a lot of Cardinal players came down here," Butz said. Eagle Hurst also has rustic lodge with a fireplace, where guests can gather to chat or play a game of chess or cards.

One popular spot on hot summer days is the large outdoor pool. "Kids love it," Butz said.

"One thing we'll never have is television," said Butz. "That just separates the family. We want the dads to fish with the kids and the families to enjoy being with each other." There is a television in the lodge and children can watch their videos on it.

Don't forget the "ranch" in Eagle Hurst Ranch. Horseback riding is one of the most popular activities. Eagle Hurst has six horses and a pony available to ride. Short rides for the children are free; the trail rides, which go through the woods, are almost the only thing with a separate charge not included with the cabin reservations. "We're trying to make this a place where you don't need to have to buy anything," Butz said.

"We have a young man, Cody Wallen, who says here year round to take care of the horses. He's experienced with horses and is also going to college. His mother cooks here," Butz added, emphasizing the family theme at Eagle Hurst.

Eagle Hurst Ranch provides guests with inner tubes to float the Huzzah, taking them to a nearby drop-off point upstream where they can float leisurely back to the resort. There are several nearby canoe and raft rental businesses available for guests, as well as a trout ranch. Eagle Hurst not far from the Mark Twain National Forest, Onondaga Cave State Park, a few wineries and a section of the Ozark Trail.

Butz and his wife are devout Catholics and Eagle Hurst reflects that. "We host about four or five retreats a year, and we also have some other denominations come down. We're ecumenical and we love churches. We're also a great spot for family reunions, Scout groups, parish groups."

Perhaps the pride and joy of Eagle Hurst for Butz is the chapel. "It was a derelict building when we bought the place, filled with junk," he said. The Butzes and other staffers cleaned up the building, with the intent of making it a chapel. "I started going around places to find appropriate things for it," Butz said, pointing out kneelers from St. Anthony of Padua and St. Stephen Protomartyr church in south St. Louis and murals painted on the wall by a local artist, Theresa Chiodini.

Turning a dilapidated building into a chapel was a wonderful project for Butz,but there was more. His children brought him out to Eagle Hurst on Father's Day a year or two after the chapel was built and showed him their new sign -- St. Norbert's Chapel.

"I don't want anybody to think I'm a saint," said Butz, "but there is a St. Norbert. I looked up his life and it's really something." He has the saint's story on display in the chapel. "We are so blessed. What family in the world has their own chapel? And we want others to come use it."

The chapel is used during retreats and other events. When a priest is available, Mass is celebrated in the chapel. Otherwise, Catholic guests can go to Mass at nearby St. Michael Church on Highway 8 in Steelville or St. James in Potosi, about 36 miles away.

Opening weekend at Eagle Hurst Ranch is Memorial Day weekend, May 26-28, and the official closing is Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1-3. Norbert Butz and his family are celebrating their 10th year of operating the resort and want everyone to celebrate with them. So come on down and enjoy a great vacation. And, Butz, added, be sure and bring your family.

Eagle Hurst Ranch is around 100 miles from St. Louis. Go west on I-44 to exit 208 (Cuba/Owensville). Take Highway 19 south through Steelville. Turn east on Highway 8 and go about 14 miles. Turn right at Eagle Hurst Road and follow it to the main gate of Eagle Hurst Ranch.

To see a slideshow of images online at the St. Louis Review visit: stlouisreview.com/1zN

For more information or reservations, call (800) 25-RANCH (257-2624) or (314) 638-3382. Visit the website at eaglehurstranch.com

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