From the Salem, MO. Ranger’s Desk June 2018

If you have been reading or hearing information being put out by the Forest Service over the last 2 years or so around Salem you might have heard about the issues with Lost Lake. Lost Lake is an accidental lake on Forest Service land which was created when the Sligo and Eastern Railroad had to cross over James Branch on its way to the town of Dillard and beyond.

The accidental lake appeared when the culvert pipes under this large earthen rail bed got clogged up and water began to pool behind it. And pool it did to the likes of about a 2 acre lake. Over the years it has been stocked with fish and kept hidden by locals as a secret fishing hole.

Well, skip forward to 2016 when it was noted that since it really isn’t an engineered dam and there are people living downstream of it, something should be done to alleviate any dangers associated with a collapse of the earthen structure. The Forest Service had a contractor come in and lower the center of the “dam” to lessen the amount of water being held back. There was only so much money to spend and this would help alleviate any disastrous flooding should the “dam” break.

Now skip forward to 2017 when we had record rainfall and flooding affecting most of the Ozarks. A lot of water went down James Branch and filled up behind the modified “dam.” This huge influx of water proceeded to overtop the earthworks and washed the soil away all the way down to the old culverts. While the incident basically put an end to Lost Lake as a pool of water, it did uncover an interesting mystery.

Hidden away inside the earthen rail bed is the remains of an old wooden trestle which once carried the tracks across James Branch. The trestle appears to have been burned off at the top. We could only speculate that the trestle burned and they just started dumping soil down on top of it and adding culverts to create an earthen structure to keep the Sligo and Eastern Railroad operating.

Which brings me to my point of giving this background story. The Forest Service is now reaching out to see if anyone has any knowledge about the old trestle. Did you have family which worked on the train or tracks? Do you have an old article which talks about the trestle burning? Any information about the train and trestle would be greatly appreciated. Please contact us at the U.S. Forest Service in Salem at 729-6656, or by email at

For more information about the Mark Twain National Forest or the Salem Ranger District in particular, you can contact us at 573-729-6656 or look us up on the internet at

Get out and enjoy your National Forest!

Thom Haines
Salem Ranger District
Mark Twain National Forest