Nature Tourism

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Published on: Apr. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

of Puxico's size that has more public land at its doorstep.

Travelers heading to the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, for example, drive right through Puxico on Highway 51, the main access to Mingo and to the Duck Creek Conservation Area just to the north.

Large chunks of public land nearby include a 156,554-acre section of the Mark Twain National Forest and the 44,351 acres (land and water) of Lake Wappapello. Add in smaller public areas in the neighborhood (such as the Dark Cypress Swamp and Crowley's Ridge conservation areas) and it's no surprise that outdoors-loving travelers are coming to the area in significant numbers.

The mayor, a busy man who owns the town's roller rink, serves as a minister in nearby Poplar Bluff and heads up a family gospel singing group, thinks outdoor recreation is a key to his town's economy. "People who come here for fishing, hunting or sightseeing bring new money into Puxico. Areas like Mingo and Wappapello mean a lot to us."

A few miles north, at the rustic but modern visitor center for the Mingo refuge, Gerry Clawson agrees. After 25 years as refuge manager at Mingo, Clawson qualifies as a local.

Looking out a large window at the edge of the 22,000-acre hardwood swamp, Clawson talks of the 150,000 travelers who visit Mingo yearly. "A lot of them come to fish," he notes, "but just watching the wildlife is big, too. Either way, I figure we do some good for the town. And Lake Wappapello also has an impact."

The Corps of Engineers lake is another plus for the area economy. Keith Kelley, a young park ranger who has lived in the area all his life, says that many area businesses make their profit during the warm-weather travel season. The lake's estimated 2 million annual visitors are vital to nearby communities, he says.

Of course, visitors aren't the area's only source of income. Farming, wood processing, a clothing factory and other businesses put money in the bank for local residents.

Still, sitting in a booth at the Puxico Restaurant, concepts like "ecotourism" and "outdoor recreation" are easily translated into more practical terms. "We get a lot of business from fishers and sightseers," says Mary Morefield, who has owned the restaurant since 1981. "Puxico always seems 'busy' for a town its size. People who come here to enjoy the water and the scenery and the wildlife make a big difference."

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