We asked Missouri Conservationist readers to tell us about their favorite conservation lands. Here are eight of their picks, places you may want to visit.
Young Conservation Area
South on Highway W off I-44 and three miles west on Highway FF in Jefferson County.
About 20 minutes outside of St. Louis County near Eureka, the Young Conservation Area is a refreshing place for any outdoor enthusiast.
For a relatively small area - 970 acres - it provides a variety of scenery, including fields of prairie grass, limestone bluffs, plenty of forested hillsides, a few small wildlife watering stations or ponds, nice hillside stands of pines surrounded by hardwood species and walking trails. Hillside streams run over smooth rocky flats and drop precipitously every so often into a larger pool and then another, and last but not least into a small feeder stream - LaBarque Creek - that runs throughout this tract of outdoors.
I became interested in this creek after I received a new fly rod and reel as a gift from my father. Being a rookie at fly fishing, this little creek was an excellent place to practice. It was amazing how many fish I saw darting out of the ripples and under root wads. I even caught fish after awhile. Not a lot of fish, nor any lunkers by any stretch of fish lies, but there were fish on my fly rod.
I have since graduated from that stream as far as fly fishing goes, but I still return to the Young Conservation Area just to wander around. Somehow it seems it is the smaller things I have experienced in my life that I remember more vividly.
Otter Slough Conservation Area
The main entrance is west of Dexter on Highway 60, then ten miles south on Highway ZZ in Stoddard County.
It's goose flight season again at Otter Slough Conservation Area. We're fortunate to live near the wildlife management area and can watch the snow geese and Canada honkers by the thousands, as they feed on the harvested fields of corn, beans and milo. Ducks are in abundance in the flooded fields as we drive alongside the area where blinds can be rented. Deer can be seen sometimes as we travel the road near the refuge.
Spring finds my husband fishing at the lake. Sometimes I join him. In the fall, we like to go to Otter Slough to walk around the south side of the lake on the board walk. For retired farmers like us, it's great entertainment at no cost.
Lead Mine Conservation Area
North of Plad on Highway 64, north on Highway T, and one-half mile east on Highway YY in Dallas County.
My fascination for the Niangua River since I was a child brought me to Lead Mine Conservation Area. It appeared to be like any other forest from the river until we found the land entrance, and there before us was a wildflower paradise. At the top of a hill, purple coneflower, pale yellow louse wort, fluffy ground plum, long-bracted wild indigo, fire red cardinal flower and various shades of violets splash the hillsides with color.
Down at the river, bloodroot, Virginia blue bells and columbine are everywhere. The hike around a bend above the river is always my favorite. That's where I identified my first yellow lady slipper, golden seal and a delicate Indian pipe, which at first I wasn't sure if it was a mushroom or a flower. I've spent hours seeking out the purple trillium, wild ginger, liverleaf, jack-in-the-pulpit, Virginia drake root and - most mysterious of all - wild ginseng.
For fern lovers it's a dream come true. We eat lunch and rest on lush beds of soft moss and watch the river roll. A bullfrog on the lotus pads, arrow root, sweet flag and spotted touch-me-not paint the water line with brilliant color untouched by any artist. We also enjoyed watching a river otter doing its version of water aerobics.
After the show I gripped a tree to get up and bumped into our dessert - a paw paw. The area's not only for plant lovers; we watched a coon searching for supper at our camp. There also are lots of deer, wild turkey and fluffy old ground hogs.
For hikers, campers, anglers, bird watchers and animal lovers, as well as flower nuts like me, this is the ultimate place to go.
Little Lost Creek and Daniel Boone Conservation Areas
Little Lost Creek Conservation Area is five miles south of Pendleton on Highway B. Daniel Boone Conservation Area is six miles west of Jonesburg on Highway Y. Near the Oak Grove Church, a cantilever sign directs visitors three miles southwest on Tower Road, which is a county gravel road.
Daniel Boone and Little Lost Creek conservation areas are the perfect places to hike in early spring. Even though the snow may still be piled high, if the day is warm enough you'll be aware of that first sound of trickling water, and the smell of warming earth and trees.
By March most of the snow is gone from the woods and valleys. Daniel Boone Conservation Area always comes to life with the first showing of the serviceberry. While the landscape is still bleak and brown, its flowers stand out white and starlike.
Take along a copy of Edgar Denison's Missouri Wildflowers or the Conservation Department's pamphlet "Showy Woodland Trees of Spring," a camera or watercolor supplies, and you can happily fill an early spring morning or afternoon. If you use Hermann as a home base, you can visit these two forests and even put in a boat at nearby Gasconade Park Access. It was on this river that my son, Pete, caught his first huge gar.
What I enjoy most about these areas is scouting out spring flora. In early March I look for rue anemone, bloodroot and Dutchman's breeches. In April comes blue-eyed Mary, wake robin, and wild sweet William. Most wildflower names are charming and sometimes descriptive. To anyone who has endured Missouri winters and known weeks when the mercury stays below zero, the first hint of spring is a great event.
Rose Pond Conservation Area
Go north of the Lewis County line on Highway 61, turn east on Highway F, and go 2.9 miles to Highway P. Take Highway P north until the pavement ends (2.3 miles), then take the gravel road to the left for .2 mile. Turn right on the next gravel road, and the area is .5 mile down this road.
When trapping season rolled around, I began thinking of new areas to trap and the thought occurred to me to check out Rose Pond Conservation Area.
I arrived about a half hour before sunrise and soon found a rather large open area where the water was low and drying up. The swamp was full of fish trying to swim around. Carp, perch, skip jack and more. Thousands of them were plainly visible with their backs out of the water, trying to suck air from the oxygen-depleted water.
Although this was hard on the fish, it was a food bonanza for the other wildlife. There were many partially eaten fish scattered around on the bank where the raccoon, possum, fox, coyote and mink were finding easy pickings.
All this fur sign really got this old trapper's heart pumping. I also noticed many herons feeding and squawking at each other, along with wood ducks and mallards flying overhead. It was a beautiful morning to observe those sights as the sun rose over Rose Pond.
I discovered that trapping was allowed with special permission only. I contacted Darlene Swearingen, the area's wildlife biologist. She said the area was having problems with beaver plugging the culverts and ditches. She was glad that I was interested in helping with the beaver problem. As a result, I had a productive trapping season. Not only did I have the privilege of enjoying many hours of a sport that I love, but I got to discover Rose Pond Conservation Area in Clark County.
Poosey Conservation Area
Marked by a cantilever sign on Highway A, one mile east of the junction of highways A and U in Livingston County.
One of my favorite activities is cross country skiing at Poosey Conservation Area. The miles of interior roads and horse trails through this area are great for combining skiing with two of my other interests - birding and wildlife watching.
Many raptors use this area, especially in winter. Some of the birds of prey seen here the last few years include prairie falcon, northern goshawk, Harlan's and rough-legged hawks, golden and bald eagles, and short-eared owls.
Ice skating also is fun on the area's many ponds when conditions are right.
At Poosey, I have taken many primitive camping trips with my kids, where I was able to watch them grow and learn about the outdoors.
Deer Ridge Conservation Area
Five and one-half miles north of Lewis-town on Highway H, and two miles west on Highway Y in Lewis County.
Share the bounty of Deer Ridge Conservation Area. Identifying flowers and trees, watching a hawk soar, following deer tracks in the snow to a resting buck, slipping and sliding on a frozen pond, listening to birds at dawn in early spring are just a few of the things my family enjoys while hiking through this area. We picnic, camp, get in our canoe and paddle, fish and observe from the water, but it is on foot that we have come to know and appreciate nature at Deer Ridge.
Rain or shine, we hike the horse trails, the not-so-obvious trails, or go cross country for three or four hours at a time with day pack, water, food and pack stove. We are at Deer Ridge almost every day we are not working and sometimes after work.
We know where to find the downed trees that are good for sitting, where the false rue anemone blanket the spring floor, where the jack-in-the pulpits open, where the yellow of the bellworts are unbelievable and where the cedar groves are like a fairyland.
Deer Ridge is known best to hunters, and rightly so, and to anglers and horseback riders. Its trails and ridges are a paradise to anyone on foot. We seldom leave without a wonder to ponder.
Pickle Springs Natural Area
East of Farmington on Highway 32, east on Highway AA, then north on Dorlac Road in Ste. Genevieve County.
About five years ago, my husband, Bob, and I discovered Pickle Springs Natural Area while driving in the Farmington area. The hiking trail is two miles long, with short stretches of steep grades that are considered moderately difficult.
Our grandsons, Ryan and Brad, think Pickle Springs is fun to hike. They like the wooden signs that give names to different areas, such as The Double Arch, Terrapin Rock and Owl's Den Bluff. It's fun for them to see where all these special areas are on the map. They also like the creek and natural spring that we see while hiking the trail.
We all like the area's quiet, natural beauty - the cool, moist canyons, the unique rock formations and the great views from the sandstone bluffs. The ferns are beautiful and seem to thrive in the moist, rock crevices. In the springtime you can see wild azaleas and flowering dogwood.
We think Pickle Springs is a special hiking area. Of all the trails we have hiked, it remains our favorite.
Discover your own favorite conservation areas in Missouri's Conservation Atlas, a 264-page guide to exploring Missouri Department of Conservation lands.
The Atlas' maps highlight more than 900,000 acres of land, thousands of miles of streams and rivers and 610 lakes.
A detailed index shows what facilities you'll find at each area, which species of fish and wildlife live there, and which activities you may participate in while at each area.
To order your Atlas, send $15 plus $5 shipping and handling (Missouri residents should include 93 cents for the 6.225% sales tax) to: Missouri Department of Conservation, Fiscal Division, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City 65102-0180.