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Current River Natural Area

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Published on: May. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

Louis. Drey had begun purchasing woodland in the Ozarks in 1951, in part to prove that it was possible to manage Ozark forests sustainably. As the crew took a breather at 3 a.m., Kirk plopped in the weeds beside Drey and told him about the sad turn of events at Distillers.

Although Drey had already purchased some 37,000 acres—more than the 25,000 he originally intended—he was a soft touch for land under threat. He immediately began negotiations with Distillers to purchase the entire 90,000-acre forest. Distillers insisted on cutting all the oaks over 15 inches diameter at breast height. They also wanted to cut the big white oaks in the proposed natural area if the designation failed to go through. But Drey bargained for the right to select 300,000 board-feet of white oak of his own choosing—not to cut but to protect.

Drey completed his purchase of the 90,000 acres June 1, 1954, and the Current River Natural Area was officially designated in March 1955.

Leo Drey became increasingly active in SAF and The Nature Conservancy, and in 1964 set aside a tract of old-growth eastern red cedar as the Pioneer Research Natural Area, the second SAFdesignated site in Missouri. By this time he had also established the L-A-D Foundation (1962), through which he would purchase additional sites of natural or cultural value. He transferred to the foundation 961 acres of Pioneer Forest that were under scenic easement to the National Park Service for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

When the Missouri Department of Conservation initiated a state system of natural areas in 1970, the two SAF sites on Pioneer were among the first to be included. By the end of the decade, eight L-A-D properties had won designation. Several of them were leased to the Conservation Department for management. Two other properties, Grand Gulf and Dillard Mill, were leased to the Department of Natural Resources for management as state parks.

In the 1980s, Leo Drey came to the rescue of yet another spectacular area, a 7,000-acre tract of forest surrounding Greer Spring, the most pristine spring in the Ozarks. The spring is now part of the Mark Twain National Forest.

In the 1990s, ecologists came to believe that large natural areas were necessary to provide for normal ecosystem functioning. Sites as tiny as the 10-acre Current River Natural Area seemed too small to be viable, and some thought that it should be declassified, despite the

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