Thousand (and one) Hills

“There’s nothing to do in Kirksville, it’s so boring.”

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that statement. I’ve heard it from both Truman students and people who have visited. Sure, there aren’t too many major attractions or big name stores. There was a Walmart and a handful of chain restaurants. The one movie theater was arguably the biggest attraction. I’ll admit, Kirksville is lacking when it came to sources of typical entertainment. But there is one thing that Kirksville has that no other city or town has: Thousand Hills State Park.

Only a ten minute drive from campus is a place that would end up becoming one of my favorite places in the world. Thousand Hills was a park with a beautiful lake and numerous hiking trails. You could go swimming, go camping, play sand volleyball, and grill. On the surface Thousand Hill is like so many other parks and lakes. There’s nothing you can do at Thousand Hills that you can’t do at any other state park. But for me, this park in particular holds so many special memories that no other park can remotely compare to. From the cookouts, to the retreats, to the hikes, Thousand Hills was a source of joy and peace.

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One of my first trips to Thousand Hills was for the freshman retreat through the Newman Center. It was one of my very first encounters and experiences with the organization that would go on to shape me throughout college. Basically, it was a retreat put on by the upperclassmen for the freshmen. It was an opportunity for the freshmen to get to know each other and delve a little deeper into their faith as they enter college. It was on this retreat that I would really get to know some of my classmates that are some of my best friends to this day. What I especially loved about this retreat is that we camped out in tents at the park. We spent the night at Thousand Hills sharing in fellowship and faith over a campfire roasting marshmallows. After that weekend I fell in love with Thousand Hills. This park would go on to become my refuge and my escape from the stresses of college.

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That freshman retreat was the first of several retreats I’d spend at Thousand Hills. It became a place where I could strengthen my faith alongside my friends. To me that’s incredibly special. There’s nothing quite like late night talks while under the stars. My friends and I spent plenty of time at Thousand Hills other than retreats. We’d go there to hike along one of the many trails. Sometimes we’d go there and have a picnic. No matter what we were there for we would always grow closer. Thousand Hills gave us a place where we could all go together to just breathe and relax.

Thousand Hills is so special to me because it’s a place where I grew in my relationships with the people around me. It was a place we could go to share in fellowship and friendship. We could get away from campus without all of the distractions of assignments and meetings. We could just be together. We’d go to have cookouts. We’d go on hikes together. Sometimes we’d just go sit by the lake and look out across the water. Appreciating God’s beautiful creation alongside your best friends is an indescribable feeling.

There was a summer in college that I stayed in Kirksville to work as a camp counselor. Most of my memories from that summer revolve around Thousand Hills. I was probably there two or three days a week. My coworkers and I would go swimming and play sand volleyball together. Many nights after work I would go hiking to unwind after a stressful day of work. I would explore the various trails and just appreciate the beautiful nature that surrounded me. On Saturdays I would pack a lunch and go have my own little picnic. Driving into the park would immediately give me a sense of peace and calmness. Whenever I was on one of the trails walking along the lake everything felt still. Any frustration I had would melt away, if only for the moment.

Thousand Hills was a place I could go to alone to find solitude. I could clear my head and just be. I was able to let everything go and reflect on the things going on in my life. It was a place where I could literally hide and get away from everything. On a college campus it can be difficult to find a quiet place. Thousand Hills offered me that perfect place of isolation that I needed from time to time. I could go hiking and know that I wouldn’t run into anyone.

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Just last summer some of my closest friends and I took a weekend trip up to Kirksville and did something we had always talked about doing – staying in one of the cabins at Thousand Hills. We spent the weekend reminiscing about our time at Truman and recounting some of our favorite memories. We spent time down by the lake and hiking the trails I had walked many times before. Making that trip to Kirksville was special because it felt like we were going back home. How fitting that we did so in my favorite place in town.

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If you know me at all then you understand that I love hill puns. I mean, the name of this blog is a hill pun. So you better believe I made the joke “It’s Thousand and One Hills whenever I’m here” every single time I went to Thousand Hills. Every. Single. Time. I didn’t care if you’d heard a hundred times, I didn’t miss an opportunity to make that joke. To those of you who were/are sick of that joke – too bad. I have no regrets.

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Reflecting about Thousand Hills has made me realize that I haven’t found a place like it since I’ve moved back home. Sure, there’s a lot more to do here in St. Louis but there isn’t that place in my life that I can go to and just get away. I’ve found plenty of running trails and parks that I enjoy but nothing that truly captures that same essence of Thousand Hills. What was unique about Thousand Hills is that I was able to completely separate it from Truman. In my mind they were two totally distinct places in the same town. I just haven’t found that place here that feels like a true escape where I can get away from everything. I can drive to Forest Park or Castlewood, but then it feels like more of a chore than anything. What I loved about Thousand Hills is that it was right there. If I was having a rough day I could hop in my car and be on a trail on the lakefront in less than 15 minutes. I miss that so much because I don’t have somewhere like that here.

In my last blog post I talked about how we have spiritual batteries that need to be charged and how there are things in our lives that charge those batteries. I believe that places can be those chargers. Thousand Hills was one of my most effective spiritual chargers while I was at Truman. It was a place I could go to isolate myself and be physically and spiritually with God. I always left refreshed and re-energized. I don’t think there’s ever been a specific place in my life that has helped me as much as Thousand Hills.

I’m not going to lie, it’s a little disheartening knowing that I don’t have a place like that in my life right now. There are many times I just want to get away from the stress but I just don’t know where to go. But I truly believe that this situation is one in which you have to be removed from it to completely appreciate it. To be honest I didn’t appreciate Thousand Hills as much as I should have while I was there. It was my escape but I didn’t really take the time to comprehend that. Reflecting on Thousand Hills makes me want to look a little deeper and see if maybe there is that “Thousand Hills” in my life right now after all. What I do know is that there are countless places in my life that have had a profound impact on me. I’ve spent most of my time with this blog reflecting on experiences or events. But going forward I want to look a little more closely at the places that have shaped me. I want to talk about the places that hold some of my best memories and moments.

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Thousand Hills will forever hold a special place in my heart. It’s a place where I came to know my friends, myself, and God. It might be the single thing I miss the most about Kirksville. I hope everyone can find their own Thousand (and one) Hills someday.

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