At first glance, it might seem that County Road 5285, eight miles south of Rolla, is an unlikely place to spend a day at the beach. And yet, several trusted travel websites rate the location among the Midwest’s top 10 beaches. How can this be?

Photo credit: Fugitive Beach

By Ron Soodalter

County Road 5285, eight miles south of Rolla, is an unlikely place to spend a day at the beach. And yet, The Fugitive Beach—named No. 1 in the state and among the Midwest’s top 10 beaches by travel websites and—is Rolla’s most popular attraction.

The Fugitive Beach was an abandoned limestone quarry until a local policeman realized its potential. For nine years, Mark Kearse was Rolla’s chief of police, and on an informant’s tip, he visited the quarry in search of a dead body. No body was found, but Mark fell in love with the site. “I wanted to make it a shooting range, and when that fell through, I bought it to build a house on. We set up an obstacle course, which we called the Fugitive Mud Run Obstacle Course.”

Initially, Mark used his idyllic 24-acre quarry to entertain family and friends. In 2012, he and his wife, D’ettra, conceived the idea of turning it into a pay-to-enter beach. They hoped for an annual attendance of a few thousand. To their surprise, the first year brought 42,000 locals and out-of-staters. This year, they will accommodate as many as 100,000 paying visitors. While some are local, others come from states as distant as Florida and New Jersey.

Photo credit: Fugitive Beach

“The first three years,” Mark recalls, “were chaotic. There were too many rowdies, and we just weren’t prepared. So we charged more, tightened things up overall, got seven-day security, became more family-oriented, and generally learned how to run a business.”

He also established a set of rules stating what visitors are not allowed to bring in: Nothing made of glass, no liquor (“We have our own bar and grill.”), no grills (“We rent them.”), and no outside music (“We provide the music.”). All children 10 or under and anyone swimming in deep water must wear life jackets.

The Fugitive Beach, which is open fulltime this year from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day, offers a variety of other attractions, including two water slides, four cliff jumps, jungle gyms, nets and courts for volleyball, and other games. Cabanas, chairs, and life jackets are available for rent.

Water slides, cliff-jumping platforms, volleyball courts, and more than an acre of sandy beach are among the attractions at The Fugitive Beach. Visitors can rent life jackets, cabanas, grills, and lounge chairs at the site.
Photo credit: Fugitive Beach

When asked about his future plans for the beach, Mark replied with a well-thought-out list, “I’m going to make it more of a kids’ and family place. I’d like to double the size of the beach. An adjacent quarry is only three feet deep, making it ideal for children. I have a third quarry, where I’d like to put a campground, miniature golf, and go-kart track, make it a place that people can rent for parties and weddings.”

Reflecting on his life-changing decision to create a beach, Mark says, “As a police officer, I’d regularly see people off having a good time, while we dealt with the darker side of things: crime and death. I had a dream of going from law enforcement to something that would give pleasure to people. I really enjoy the difference.”

To learn about more Missouri beaches, check out this Missouri Life article.

Article originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of Missouri Life.