After years of hearing how scenic it was, I finally hiked the trail at Pickle Springs Natural Area. It leads 2 miles up and down hillsides through a forest past small streams and incredibly dramatic rock formations. This is one of more than 180 areas that make up Missouri’s Natural Areas System, which had its 30th anniversary this year.
I doubt most Missourians even know this program exists, but apparently they support the idea. In a survey conducted in 2003, 83.9 percent of Missourians agreed that “the Missouri Department of Conservation should designate natural areas to protect Missouri’s best examples of forests, prairies, marshes and glades” (56.8 percent strongly agreed, 27.1 percent mildly agreed). So it’s a good thing that MDC and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) teamed up to maintain these areas along with several other organizations (such as U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City Parks Department, The Nature Conservancy, the L-A-D Foundation the Missouri Prairie Foundation and the University of Missouri) and individuals.
Mike Leahy, MDC natural areas coordinator, runs the program and noted that “these natural areas offer a glimpse of what land looked like 200 years ago on the eve of Missouri’s statehood. The Natural Areas System contains over 60,000 acres of Missouri’s native landscapes—the cream of the crop in terms of our natural communities.”