Man to donate 800-plus acres for Mo. park

Missouri's Central Park
Don Robinson says he doesn't know what his planned donation is worth.Jeff Roberson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A long, bumpy road leads through the woods to Don Robinson's unfinished house, where he lives in conditions he calls a step above camping.

Wearing dirty sneakers, worn corduroys and a shirt with visible holes, Robinson doesn't look like a man who owns hundreds of acres of rustic property here. But he does — and he has made arrangements to donate a piece of it as large as New York's Central Park to create a new Missouri state park.

Robinson — when asked his age he says "I'm not going to tell you, but in 19 years, I'll be 100" — will turn at least 843 acres of his land over to Missouri's Department of Natural Resources after his death, along with a trust fund to help maintain the property. That's the same acreage as New York's signature park.

The Department Natural Resources spokeswoman Sue Holst said the agency hasn't had a land donation that large, with money to support it, in the 25 years she has been with the department.

Both Robinson and the state want to keep the land unspoiled.

"We don't anticipate a lot of development here," said Holst, explaining it isn't expected to become a campground or have a big visitors' center.

'Wild and wooly' land
Robinson, who never married and doesn't have children, said he didn't want to leave his land to "melonheads" or let it get overrun.

"You've got to have somebody here, or they'll turn it into a dirt bike track," he said.

The self-made businessman made money producing and marketing a household cleaner, then developing three subdivisions.

The small, wooden-shingled house where he has lived since 1964 has rough stone floors and few of what most people would consider creature comforts. One room holds his bed, a few mismatched chairs and a desk.

The howl of coyotes accompany Robinson to bed and the call of crows wake him in the morning.

The land that Robinson describes as "wild and wooly" includes sandstone canyons, cliffs, glades and forests with more than 300 species of plants.

Robinson said he doesn't know what his donation is worth, and those who know him say they can't imagine he cares. Tom Pounders, 48, of Denver, used to work summers for Robinson.

"He doesn't think material objects are important," Pounders said, recalling that Robinson wore the same cutoffs repeatedly during the summer and that he once repaired a broken tennis shoe with a spare tire.

Escape to paradise
Pounders and other young people would camp and swim on Robinson's property.

"To go up to his place was just an escape. It was like paradise to us," he said.

After more than a decade of efforts to encourage Robinson to allow for conservation of his land, Robinson has one wish: "I think it should be the Don Robinson State Park, not the Robinson State Park," he said. "There's a lot of Robinsons, but only one me."

Plus, he said, it's a nice enough donation that he thinks people could remember to use his full name down the road.

"I think I should get a couple of brownie points."