A Natural Area Anniversary
include complexes of natural features within their landscapes. For example, the Sunklands Natural Area contains caves, collapsed canyons, sinkhole ponds, Ozark pine forests, glades, springs, dolomite cliffs, and a headwaters stream combined with its upper watershed. The 6,000-plus acres that comprise this area lie within the Sunklands Conservation Area in Shannon County. The Sunklands Natural Area represents the mosaic of interrelated natural communities, plants, and animals that define this part of the Ozarks. It is large enough to sustain certain plant and animal populations that could not be maintained on a smaller island of habitat.
To help celebrate the Missouri Natural Areas System's 25th Anniversary, it is fitting to highlight a few individual Natural Areas, including some newer additions and potential additions.
French traders in the early 1700's visited the village of the Oumessourit (or Missouri) Indians above a bluff overlooking a channel of the Missouri River in what is now Van Meter State Park in Saline County. Today the remnants of that Indian village are preserved within the park, along with some of the natural communities that provided the resources for this culture's survival. A natural marsh occupies an old oxbow channel of the river. This marsh is a living remnant of a natural community that has all but disappeared. River bulrush, water parsnip, giant bur reed and more than 100 other plant species, along with marsh wildlife such as least bitterns and muskrats, show visitors how thousands of acres of floodplain once appeared.
Last year the DNR added this marsh to the existing Van Meter Forest Natural Area to create the 300-acre Oumessourit Natural Area.
Another high-quality marsh and associated bottomland forest and wet prairie occur on Four Rivers Conservation Area in Vernon County. The 227-acre Horton Bottoms Natural Area is one of the best examples of natural emergent marsh along the Little Osage River. The Four Rivers Conservation Area Plan calls for consideration of expanding Horton Bottoms Natural Area to include suitable adjacent land.
The Jacks Fork River is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a popular recreation area administered by the National Park Service. Canoeists who float downstream from the Highway 17 bridge encounter some of the most striking and beautiful scenery in Missouri. Some of the best of this scenery, along with springs, caves, and rare plants, occurs along the 3.3 miles of stream in the 996-acre Jacks Fork Natural Area. This is another