Vol. V, No. 3, Winter 1992
By Robert Gilmore
The Ozarks is a place. Its boundaries can be drawn on a map, not with as much geographic precision as a state line perhaps, but geographers can explain with some degree of assurance how the region they have delineated differs from adjacent territories ....
But the Ozarks is not only a place--it is also a people. If the place seems not to change very much, the same cannot be said about the people who occupy that place. For the people are not only increasingly "different," there are many more of them living here.
At mid-decade, in 1985, the population of the 52 counties which lie mostly within the borders of the Missouri Ozarks had increased from the 1980 census figures by nearly 76,000 people--more than 5.5%. By comparison, the state of Missouri as a whole had expanded by 2.3% in that same time. Almost all of the Missouri Ozarks shared in this expansion. Only ten of the 52 counties had a growth rate less than the state average. Part of the additional 76,000 Ozarkers who swelled the area during this five year period are accounted for by the fact that there were more births than deaths during this time. But more than half of the number, some 46,600, represents a migration into the Missouri Ozarks by people who previously had lived elsewhere.
The Arkansas Ozarks has increased even more dramatically. Of the 19 Arkansas counties which lie primarily within the Ozarks regional lines, every one increased in population, with the result that the Arkansas Ozarks in 1985 boasted some 33,500 more inhabitants than in 1980. This represented an Arkansas Ozarks increase of 7.2% compared to the Arkansas state-wide rate of 5.5%. The population of the six Oklahoma Ozarks counties increased by almost 16,000 in this five-year period, or 9.4%, while the statewide increase was 9.1%.
There are many things that make the Ozarks an attractive place to live--that cause many people to migrate here and to remain here. It is a rural place, and no doubt many people are attracted by that quality. But even the very nature of rurality is changing in the Ozarks. Fewer families make a living on the farm. But to gain, or to retain, the advantages of a rural life, many people seem to be buying or building homes in rural areas and becoming commuters, travelling considerable distances from their homes to their jobs. Suburban homes, even subdivisions, are developing in remote rural communities, several miles from the metropolitan areas where paying jobs are more plentiful. An increasingly common sight in the Ozarks is a rural landscape in which haybales, are a quintessential symbol of rurality, make room for bulldozers and other construction equipment for building homes and service structures for non-farming ruralists. The Ozarks commuter, another increasing breed, may be the symbol of a new rurality.
The rural character of the region is, of course, not the only feature that distinguishes the Ozarks. In his book, The Ozarks: Land and Life, Milton Rafferty suggests that in addition to its rurality the Ozarks is characterized by the Southern Appalachian heritage which was instilled here by the earliest settlers; by the Ozarker's uncommon sense of place; and by a very stable social system. Although these traits are not unique to the Ozarks, Rafferty believes they are here "accentuated, drawn together and combined in unique and interesting ways." These traits, and others, are certainly being affected by a changing and expanding Ozarks population.
Population Information came from the Center Economic Research, Southwest Missouri State University; The Center for Information Services, search, and Public Service, University at Little Rock; and the Oklahoma Department Commerce.
Copyright -- OzarksWatch