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Hike the Heart of Missouri

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Published on: May. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

old forests, young forests, active cropland, abandoned fields, creekbottoms and small lakes. All are visible from an 8-mile hiking trail. Don't be daunted by the trail's length: equestrian trails, gravel roads and field access trails criss-cross the area, making it easy to wander where you wish. Walk a little bit or a long ways. If you do follow the hiking or equestrian trails, be warned that the trail markers are not always easy to spot--watch for paint markers on trees. The trails and roads overlap often, though, so it's hard to get lost if you're a good map reader.

The stretch of trail along the western side of the land traverses the edges of active and abandoned fields. Notice how the abandoned fields are being transformed into young forests and thickets. Here, too, you'll see wild grasses and flowers. In the autumn, great stands of flaming sumac and radiant goldenrod line the trail.

If you continue east after the southernmost parking lot, you'll be strolling down a tranquil country road, passing an old farm. On your right is Schaaf Creek. The road crosses the creek at a low water crossing, so avoid this section of the trail if you don't want wet feet.

The eastern arm of the area is more heavily timbered than the west arm. Here the hills become steep on occasion. On the northeast section of the hiking trail is a slope marred by a small forest fire. In clearings along the north stretch of the trail are impressive stands of blackberries.

To get to Prairie Home Conservation Area take County Route J west from Prairie Home, then turn south on Route W.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park needs no introduction to most mid-Missourians. Though it's only been a state park for about 30 years, its attractions drew visitors even in the 19th century. At one time or another, the land around (and sometimes beneath) the natural stone bridge was the site of a distillery, dance floor, amusement park, community center and even a post office. Today, the park's wonders are protected from commercialization and Columbia's suburban sprawl.

There is no more popular stretch of trail in mid-Missouri than the .5-mile Rock Bridge Trail, and for good reason: two spectacular wonders of our region, Rock Bridge and Devil's Ice Box, are within an easy walk of the park's southern parking lot. The trail is a boardwalk, built to protect

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