How to navigate Kirksville: Tips from a tru townie

If you’re reading this, then chances are you’ve just finished moving into your first home away from home. The bed’s been lofted and de-lofted twice and made up with inconvenient, extra-long bedding that will only ever fit your dorm bed. You’ve just finished hanging posters and Target wall decorations with what feels like three dozen Command strips. Your parents are probably on their way to Wal-Mart for some forgotten but much-needed necessities — most likely toilet paper or ramen — before heading home. You’re here. You did it. You made it to college. Welcome to Kirksville.

Three years ago, I was in the same place as you. I hugged my mother and sister goodbye with well-intentioned promises of calling often. I made awkward small talk with my roommate before meeting the rest of my house for a long list of rules and advice from our student advisers. I played the uncomfortable get-to-know you games. And I went through the same adjustment process every freshman does, with one small difference. When I left for college, I only moved 1.4 miles.

That’s right folks. I’m what a Typical Truman Student, commonly abbreviated as TTS, would call a townie. I was born and raised in Kirksville, as were my parents before me. So when I moved into my dorm, I didn’t experience the same sort of culture shock many of you might be going through. You might just be realizing you’ve committed four years of your life to a town that’s at least an hour and a half from the closest mall. Perhaps you went on that trip to Wal-Mart, and it occurred to you that you could drive the length of the town in less than 15 minutes. Or maybe you’re sitting in your room wondering, “What now?” Don’t worry, there’s more to Kirksville than meets the eye.

For the last three years, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard another Truman student complain about Kirksville or how bored they get here. When people find out I’m from Kirksville one of the most popular questions they ask me is, “What do you do around here?” The thought might have even crossed your mind already. Sure, Kirksville isn’t a cultural mecca by any means, but I love this town. I’ve got 21 years of experience to prove life is what you make it and home doesn’t have a thing to do with geography. Someone once told me that only stupid or lazy people get bored, and the older I get, the more I have to agree.

For me, Kirksville is home. I spent my childhood biking to the public library, baking in the sun at Thousand Hills State Park, stargazing and picnicking in parks. I’ve never run out of things to do. And with a little imagination, you won’t either. So I’m here today to share more than 21 years of townie wisdom with you about how to make Kirksville your home for the next four years.

Spend Time Outside

I’m sorry to say it kids, but you’ve just committed to being a professional student. This means countless hours spent slaving away over books inside. If you’re like me then spending more than three hours cooped up somewhere — even if it is in a cool library or the sweet new renovation that is Baldwin Hall — you go a little stir crazy. And the only way I know how to beat back the scholarly blues is by going outside.

I’ve always said Kirksville is a summer town, but the truth is Kirksville is an outdoors town. There’s something here for everyone. Nature enthusiasts. Cyclists. Swimmers. Hikers. Runners. Stargazers. Athletes. We’ve got it all.

One of my favorite places is Thousand Hills State Park. Friends, if you leave Kirksville without ever having been to the state park then you have missed out. Honestly, this place deserves its own article. Pretty much all my favorite activities can be found out there.

My friend and roommate senior Anna Wang (back) and I (front) love to explore the trails at Thousand Hills State Hills Park.

I love to hike along the trails. My favorite is Red Bud trail, blazed in yellow, because the scenery out there is amazing and I love the challenge of the varied terrain. This particular trail crosses a stream a couple of times and I almost always find myself pausing to watch the water flow by on its way to the lake. It’s also a great place for cheesy photo shoots with your besties. Cue audience groans because I just revealed I’m a basic Instagram obsessed millennial. Wait, am I a millennial? Doesn’t matter. I have no shame.

The Thousand Hills Trail, blazed in red, is popular with mountain bikers and runners. Although the red trail is actually 10.5 miles long, I typically stick to the one mile loop connector used to shorten or lengthen the trail. Guidebooks are available at the start of the trail and I highly recommend you use them. The first time I took friends out on this trail I thought I turned onto the 1 mile loop but actually ended up on the full trail. For some strange reason we kept going. Let me just say this, I was neither emotionally nor physically prepared for a ten mile walk. The brand new Forest Lake Trail, or FLATS, runs through the heart of the park and is wheelchair accessible. From this trail you can stop by the swimming beach for a free dip in the lake or to visit the petroglyph site. If you’re interested in biking, but didn’t bring yours to college with you then you can rent one from the marina.

Not interested in hiking or biking but still want to be active? Then you should definitely check out the other equipment rentals down at the marina. I love kayaking on the lake. If I wasn’t poor of pocket I would already have invested in my own kayak. Thankfully, renting can be very affordable. Every summer, my friends and I make sure to fit in at least one trip to the lake to take advantage of this deal. Equipment rentals are by the hour and if you head out early enough on a weekday then the rates are half their normal price before noon. This is a limited time offer folks. As with most places, the rentals shut down after Labor Day. Get it while it’s hot. Pun intended.

Okay, okay. Enough fangirling over Thousand Hills. There are plenty of other parks in Kirksville. Rotary Park — also referred to by locals as swimming pool park because it’s next to, well, the swimming pool – boasts an amphitheater, Frisbee golf and a sweet jungle gym for young ‘uns. Locals also head here for sledding in the winter since the park is set atop a large hill. There are also several parks within walking distance of campus and our own beautiful quad, creatively called The Quad, where you can string up a hammock, throw around a Frisbee, toss a ball with friends or just spread out a blanket and take a nap in the sun.

Ryle commons boasts a killer sand volleyball pit where you can work up a sweat with friends before barbecuing a delicious meal. Or rent a basketball from the hall desk. Walk down to the tennis courts for some hand-eye coordination. Kite flying brings surprising yet idyllic delights to most college students. The list goes on.

I could go on and on about everything there is to do outside in Kirksville — oh wait, I already have – but the truth is there still lots to talk about that doesn’t require being outside. I just heard a lot of imaginary people in my brain going, “Whew.”

Explore Downtown

Ladies and Gentlemen, within a short walk from campus is a magical place I would like to introduce you to. A little place we like to call The Square. I know, we’re creative. Here you can browse the famous three-story upscale thrift store Hidden Treasures while enjoying a lavender mist latte from Sweet Espressions, an off-chain coffee shop with a killer atmosphere. You can walk to Pagliai’s Pizza for a palonza before catching a late showing at the Downtown Cinema 8.

Townie fun fact — Palonzas, a wonderful concoction of sauce, cheese and meat enclosed in a pocket of delicious dough baked to perfection, were originally called ronzas, until a controversy surrounding the name and a chain of restaurants called Runza forced a name change a few years ago. They’ll always be ronzas to me — my childhood is filled with fond memories of their ninety-nine cent baby ronza night and their family movie night.

Grab a cup of frozen yogurt from Tru-Yo and walk up to the Princess Emporium for a day of thrift shopping and antiquing. These two stores actually have some neat history of their own. Tru-Yo was originally owned and operated by a Truman student, hence the name. Since then the store has been sold and renovated. Princess Emporium, according to my great-great aunt Meredith, used to be an old theater. And folks, you only need to walk in and glance up at the ceiling to see what she’s talking about. Once upon a time, Kirksvillians packed into Princess Emporium not to buy antiques but to watch “Gone With The Wind” for the first time. My aunt even has a picture of the marquee. My aunt can also remember a time when there used to be chaperoned dances above the theater for teenagers.

More into trivia than history? Head on over to Maxwell’s, a trendy eatery and bar, for their Tuesday night trivia.

Another place visit is the Aquadome for music and open mic nights. Although this Typical Truman Student favorite mostly hosts concerts, they by no means limit themselves strictly to music. Here you find events dedicated to poetry, food and art. Another Truman hot spot is Take Root Café, a recently established pay-what-you-can restaurant dedicated to food sustainability and access located in one of the cutest spots in Kirksville, Pickler’s Famous.

The downtown area sports all kinds of interesting stores and venues for a broke college student to spend their hard earned money, but your time here in Kirksville won’t be complete without exploring one of the festivals or parades that take place on The Square. Red Barn Arts Festival is coming up and you don’t want to miss it. Vendors come from all across the state to display and sell their wares. The local farmer’s market is also hosted here every Saturday. Check out the Kirksville community calendar for more events on The Square. Or you can just stay tuned with Truman Media Network. We’ll keep you posted.

Support the Freakin’ Arts

One of the things I didn’t take advantage of until I enrolled at Truman was the free art and music opportunities. Are you listening Kirksville natives? There’s something for you guys too in this article. It seems like every week there’s a concert and all it took was one course on jazz – thank you LSP requirements – to get me hooked on all the free concerts. And these musicians are seriously talented.

There are also the Ophelia Parrish galleries where students or guest artist exhibits are almost always on display. The English and literature department brings in authors to do readings of their work and answer questions. And every Typical Truman Student looks forward to TSODA recital and the theatre department’s productions each year.

The Ophelia perish art galley offers countless opportunities to soak in culture.

The Kirksville Arts Association is an organization dedicated to supporting regional artists. They also plan the yearly Red Barn Arts Festival. Although the Kirksville Arts Center sadly burned down last spring, the council is still going strong and currently displaying their fibers, metal and wood exhibit at their new location on Baltimore Street. Gallery 104 on The Square also features local artwork and hosts painting workshops throughout the year.

Who knew Northeast Missouri had such talent to offer?


It seems fitting that this would make the list since the eclipse is just days away. Have any of your professors canceled class yet? Everyone in Kirksville is gearing up to experience this once in a lifetime event. But the astrological enthusiasm doesn’t have to end after Aug. 21.

The Del and Norma Robison planetarium is not only planning a solar eclipse viewing but schedules a slew of shows throughout the year, including laser light shows. A trip to the stars is just a short walk to Magruder Hall.

Journey a little farther and you can visit the observatory at the University Farm. There’s even a stargazer’s club on campus that organizes open houses at the observatory.

Another Kirksville tradition is Train Bridge. If you’ve been on campus for more than an hour you may have heard someone recommend this to you. This hot spot features a bridge suspended over the railroad and an unfettered view of the sky. Visitors can search for constellations in the night while the wait for the train to pass under them. Be safe kids.

Go for a Drive

It seems like every Truman student becomes intimately familiar with the concept of stress. The pressure of an academic life is unexpectedly fast-paced. The constancy of balancing ever looming deadlines was one of the most difficult adjustments for me when I came to college. Thankfully, rural living reminds me to slow down every once in awhile. One way I do this is by taking a country drive.

When I was a junior in high school, I spent a summer building farm fences with my father to raise money for dual placement courses I planned to take. While I didn’t relish the manual labor, I did find an unexpected blessing in the winding drives we took each morning to reach our jobsite. And during the day, at any moment I could look up from whatever task was consuming my attention and find myself faced with beautiful vision of sweeping oceans of grass and rolling hills dotted with cows, hay bales and the fences I was helping to build. The kind of peace I experienced out there is a feeling I still struggle to put into words. Now, all I have to do to leave behind the stress of whatever problem is overwhelming me is to roll down the windows of my car and hit the road.

Growing up, my family took a lot of what I call “daycations.” My mama would pack a picnic lunch and my sisters and I would load up in the minivan and the whole Burns tribe would take off. Sometimes we would just drive around back roads, listening to a Cardinals’ game or the golden oldies station while my parents made observations about the changes in the farms and homes we saw along the way. Other times we had a destination in mind – the Midwest Old Thresher’s Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa comes to mind. When we got hungry, we’d pull over to a roadside park and have a family picnic. If I sound nostalgic it’s because I am. Were there times I wish we had gone to some exotic location for a vacation? Yes, but I also wouldn’t trade those car trips for anything, and I can get pretty violently carsick.

So don’t be afraid to round up a troupe of friends, pile into someone’s hybrid and take off for destinations unknown. Take in the scenery. Raid the C-store before you leave and have your own roadside picnic. Discover the joys of Amish and Dutch country stores. Learn how to use a road map. Roll down the windows and blare the radio. One of the benefits you have of living in a new place is the discovery of something new.

Get Connected

One piece of advice your student advisor is going to give you, if they haven’t already, is to leave your door propped open as often as possible. This way, you meet more people and feel more connected with your community, right? Well, the same theory applies to small towns. The old saying that everyone knows everyone in a small town is true. I can’t remember a time where I went into the grocery store with Mama and came out in under an hour — usually because we’ve seen half a dozen people we know and stopped to have five minute conversations with each of them.

There’s something comforting about knowing you can have an impact here, that people will remember your name once you’re gone. And the truth is, people in Kirksville want to get to know you. Truman students play a large role in our community and in our economy. So go to the farmer’s market some Saturday. Talk to people. Ask them questions about their wares and answer questions in return. If you’re a church going person, find a church here in Kirksville to get connected with several great groups on campus.

If you love sports, volunteer with a program at the local schools or join an intramural team. Love theater? Join one of the community theatre productions. There are countless opportunities to find your community. As a writer, I jumped straight into Truman Media Network and had a job by September of my freshman year. Find your interest, find your community.

Not sure where you’re interests lie? Then I highly encourage you to go to the activities fair. Pretty much every student organization shows up to recruit new members. There’s something for everyone there, including free food. And since Truman is such a small school, these niche communities are always looking for new faces to join their families.

Explore the History

It’s hard to imagine a place existing before you’ve been there. You never really consider what a place used to be like. But if you’re a history buff, Kirksville has a lot to offer.

The city of kirksville celebrates the anniversary of the battle of kirksville every year with a reenactment.

Did you know Kirksville was the site of a small battle during the Civil War? One of the oldest graves in the historical Forrest Llewellyn Cemetery dates back to the Civil War. Every year, Civil War enthusiasts travel from all around to re-enact the battle of Kirksville in Rotary Park. The park is also home to a veteran’s memorial, with lists of the names of locals who served in the military. I’ve been trying to find my grandfather’s name on the memorial, but I haven’t found it yet in the long list of veterans.

Kirksville is also home to the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine. Collections include everything from artifacts of Andrew Taylor Still’s life on the frontier to the formation of osteopathic medicine as a profession. I can remember visiting the museum during a field trip in grade school and being morbidly fascinated by the display of the human nervous system.

Truman has its own interesting culture and history to explore. For example, did you know there used to be a small lake on campus? Learning about the history of a place changes your perception of it. You’d be surprised by all there is find out.

In Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, then I have one last piece of advice for you. Write letters. It may seem like weird advice or like an outdated form of communicating, but there’s something about writing letters to your loved ones that forces you to consciously reflect on the place you’re living. The people you’re writing to don’t have any idea what living in Kirksville is like and you get to share it with them. I treasure the snail mail I get from friends who left Kirksville for college. And who knows, one day those letters might become tangible evidence of a wonderful part of your life.