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Wetlands Redux

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 1, 2010

ponds of comparable size.

During the flood of 1993, when Eagle Bluffs was under several feet of water, the blew holes gained some new inhabitants. These include sauger, white bass and yellow bass.

The flood of '93 did more than move fish around. Eagle Bluffs was only weeks from opening when the flood hit, dropping anywhere from a couple inches to several feet of sand and silt on the area. Clearing the pools and channels has been costly and time-consuming. A handicap-accessible parking area at the river was all but washed away. It had to be rebuilt. The 1995 floods added insult to injury.

On the positive side, the floods were a boon to researchers who had studied the area's plants, animals, soils, ground water and surface water before the flood. By looking at these things now, they'll glean useful information about how floods may affect other wetlands.

The whole river bottomland, from bluff to bluff, was under water in 1993. Although flooding damaged the lowlands, the bluffs' stone faces are still as varied and striking as ever. Some are great, smooth gray strips like ships' hulls. Others are pocked with dents as big as a grizzly's back. Hikers and bicyclists get a great view from the 4 miles of Katy Trail State Park that hugs the valley's eastern bluffs.

Nearly 355 acres of Eagle Bluffs' timber adjoin the nearby University of Missouri's Schnabel Woods. With luck, you may spot a three bird orchid on this registered natural area, says natural history lands coordinator Greg Gremaud. The bluff tops also contain small areas of prairie as well as wildflowers, such as bloodroot and sweet cicely.

Someday, Loveless says, the Conservation Department may build a spur of the Katy Trail that takes hikers and bicyclists through the high woods and prairies. Since the view up there overlooks 13 miles of river bottomland and bluffs, an observation platform may be in the area's future.

Observers could trace former river channels in the bottomland which still contains the remains of the steamboat called Plowboy. The thousands of birds passing along the Missouri River during spring and fall migrations make for a spectacular view. One could almost imagine how this river valley might have looked 150 years ago.

How to Reach Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area

Driving south from Columbia, the trip to Eagle Bluffs is a little like the nearby Missouri River itself-a meandering downhill ride with a variety of habitat along the way. You'll pass fields of crops and cattle, patches of woods and human habitats, ranging from trailers to passive solar palaces.

Take Providence Road (163) in Columbia south from Highway 70 then route K. Eagle Bluffs is about 12.5 miles from I-70. (From University of Missouri's Faurot Field at Stadium Boulevard and Providence Road, it's 10.3 miles.)

Find information about the area, including handicapped-accessible parking and observation areas, by stopping at the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area office or by calling (573) 445-3882. The office is a white house close to the road on your left just before the terrain bottoms out at McBaine. Just .3 mile farther on the right is a Katy Trail State Park parking lot and access.

To reach the wetlands themselves, drive past the village of McBaine, cross Perche Creek then turn left on Star School Road. Star School Road goes through the middle of the wetlands.

What is a wetland?

Wetlands are transition areas between aquatic and upland ecosystems that either contain standing water or are periodically flooded or saturated. These moist conditions cause soils to lack oxygen part of the time. Wetlands are home to plants that are well adapted to life in water. Some of these plants, for example, can pump oxygen down to their roots. The following descriptions touch on just three wetlands types:

Marshes are treeless wetlands, often lying in low areas in the floodplains of major rivers and streams. Marshes typically contain a mix of emergent vegetation, such as cattails, grasses and sedges, and open water.

Swamps are something like marshes with trees, such as silver maples, American elm, black willow, cypress, cottonwoods and river birches. These areas also have shrubs and mosses. Sometimes swamps succeed marshes as trees grow in, but they may also develop in the beds of sluggish streams or in floodplains.

Fens and seeps are unusual wetlands that form in Missouri, mostly in the Ozarks at stream terraces and at the base of bluffs. They are fed by ground water, which means their soils stay wet much of the year. Because the water comes from the ground, it may be alkaline or acidic, depending on the local geology.

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