Missouri’s Largest Private Landowner and Access Champion Leo Drey Dies at 98

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If you’ve ever hiked the chalky hills and bluffs of Missouri’s Ozarks, or if you’ve ever floated one of its remarkable rivers, then you probably owe a debt of gratitude to Leo Drey.

Drey, who died this week at age 98, was at one time the largest private landowner in Missouri. He spent a lifetime buying up cut-over Ozark timberlands, selectively harvesting the wood from them, and then donating the land to the public domain.

Drey’s benefaction is the reason we have the Ozark Wild and Scenic Riverways, where I floated and hunted turkeys last year as well as public access to hundreds of thousands of acres of timberland and natural springs across southern Missouri.

You can read more about Drey’s remarkable life here.

I’m taking away a couple of thoughts from the obituary. One is Drey’s office voicemail message, as quoted in the Post-Dispatch: “I’m out planting a forest. Please leave your name and number and I’ll try to get back to you before it matures.”

The second is a more universal aspiration, that all of us who love the outdoors would do well to remember: If you love something, give it away.