A Natural Area Anniversary

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

The Missouri Natural Areas system is now 25 years old. The Missouri departments of Conservation and Natural Resources created the system to protect and manage examples of the forests, prairies, glades, marshes, caves, streams and other natural features that covered Missouri before European settlement.

It was important to act before some of these natural features disappeared. For example, only a small amount of prairie hadn't been converted to farmland, and only a tiny amount of old-growth Ozark pine forest had avoided the saw. Only a few of our streams contained natural marshes along their floodplains that still supported rails, bitterns and blue flag iris. Once recognized and protected as Missouri Natural Areas, the enduring values of these areas would be secured.

The Mark Twain National Forest and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways later joined MDC and DNR on the Missouri Natural Areas Committee. Other agencies, organizations, businesses and private landowners participated by registering their special lands as Missouri Natural Areas, signifying their status as natural areas with the system's hallmark "Jack-in-the-Pulpit" logo.

Today the system contains 179 areas encompassing more than 56,000 acres. It protects some of the best remaining examples of wild Missouri for public education, enjoyment and research. Although not yet complete after 25 years, The Missouri Natural Areas System has come a long way in achieving the initial vision.

The program's roots can be traced back to 1970, when the Department of Conservation began a system of natural areas. The Department had no funds to acquire new lands, so it looked for qualifying lands on its existing holdings. Early natural areas were fairly small and often contained only one or a few natural features, such as bottomland forests or glades. Mule Hollow Glades, Clifty Creek, Grassy Pond, Elmslie Forest and Blue Spring were some of the earliest Conservation Department Natural Areas.

The Department promised to expand its natural areas system if voters passed the Conservation Sales Tax. The public agreed, and since 1976, sales tax revenue helped acquire wonderful new lands that became Missouri Natural Areas. The additional Conservation Department resources, and those of other agency partners, protected more and different types of natural areas. Big Oak Tree Natural Area in Big Oak Tree State Park became one of the first DNR sites to be designated into the new, interagency natural area program in 1977.

The Missouri Natural Areas Committee recognized the importance of designating larger areas to

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