Sharon Koehler

Artistic Stone Design

Decades ago, I lived in Missouri (the Show Me state). It was a very nice place to live, with the Mississippi River, the Ozarks, Branson, the Arch, the Cardinals, the Blues and lots of other stuff to see and do. I lived there for a dozen years or so. If you have never been to Missouri or even the Midwest, I can tell you that summers can be difficult. The temperature soars and takes the humidity right along with it. The air can be stifling. 

Fugitive Beach, Rollo, MO

We, however, had a contingency plan for days like that. We would pile in the car, drive out of town and go swimming at an old, abandoned quarry. It was great. The water was ice cold, even on the hottest of days, and try as we might, no one could ever touch the bottom. We were not the only visitors. It was a very popular place in the summer.

Now, this was before the dangers of swimming in abandoned quarries was widely known or publicized. According to, in the United States over 40 people per year die swimming in these quarries, and to make that statistic even more devastating, most of the victims are young people looking to have some summer fun. 

There are thousands of abandoned quarries in the United States filled with underground spring water and rainwater. The moment you jump in, the water is way over your head, so you have no footing if you get tired. The colder-than-normal water can cause cramps, and there may be construction equipment or other dangerous debris hiding in the water. It can be difficult to get out, as the walls are steep and the ledges can be unstable. It doesn’t sound near as inviting now as it did when I was younger! 

Elephant Rocks State Park is also in Missouri.

Elephant Rocks State Park is also in Missouri.

At Elephant Rocks State Park, some of the original quarry buildings are still partially standing and give a glimpse into the history of the quarry.

At Elephant Rocks State Park, some of the original quarry buildings are still partially standing and give a glimpse into the history of the quarry.

So, if you are searching for some safe quarry swimming, what can you do? You can head on over to Rolla, Missouri. A former police chief there had a brilliant idea. He took an old, abandoned quarry and turned it into a beach for all to come and enjoy. Before anyone ever got to swim in it, all the water was drained out and all hazardous debris and rocks were removed.  They have added slides, diving platforms and a shallow kiddie area with a small kiddie slide as well. Sand was added to make a true beach in the middle of a land-locked state. Genius!

If Missouri is too far away, then head on up to Brownstone Park in Portland, Connecticut. An abandoned limestone quarry there has been turned into an extreme watersports park. They offer a slew of activities like cliff jumping, zip lining, wakeboarding, kayaking and more. They also offer Red Cross certified lifeguard classes. This particular watersports park draws upwards of 50,000 people per year.

Not all old quarries are turned into swimming holes. Some are repurposed into other things. If you live on the West Coast, go take a look at what is happening in Mission Valley, California. An old sand and gravel quarry has been turned into a beautiful park. Civita Park has an amphitheater for outdoor events, trails with bronze animals throughout, community garden plots, a military tribute plaza, a waterfall and man-made creek, with more features planned such as a recreation center and museum.

Missouri also boasts another old, quarry turned into a park.  In the 1800 and 1900s, the land had been a working granite quarry. In 1967, the land was donated to the state and turned into beautiful Elephant Rocks State Park. Some of the original quarry buildings are still partially standing and give a glimpse into the history of the quarry. This quarry park also has a Braille Trail. This is a paved, wheelchair accessible trail with educational signage in English and Braille. Elephant Rocks got its name from a huge granite boulder formation that mimics a line of circus elephants. Those boulders are reported to be over a million years old. 

Repurposing old abandoned quarries takes potentially dangerous or deadly places and turns them into fun, interesting, beautiful, useful places. Repurposing old abandoned quarries also takes unsightly, unused, forgotten land and makes it useful again. Hopefully, as time goes by, more and more of these abandoned quarries will be taken over by people or companies that want to repurpose or revitalize them into useful, active, attractive, people-friendly destinations. That is a win – win for everyone.  

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