The Center of It All

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 22, 2010

banks, providing habitat and acting like a sponge when river levels rise. Many of these areas are managed as bottomland forest, seasonal wetlands and uplands.

This varied habitat attracts an assortment of wildlife. Whitetail deer, turkey and squirrel are plentiful in these areas. During migrations, waterfowl and shorebirds use these areas for resting and feeding. Hunters, wildlife watchers and photographers generally find good populations of wildlife for their outdoor pursuits.

Lake of the Ozarks/Osage River

In the southern part of the Central Region, the Lake of the Ozarks and Osage River system offer variety in both landscape and recreation options.

While there is moderate boat traffic on the lake, those who make use of the “off season” will find they have much of the area to themselves. The Lake of the Ozarks/Osage River is a tremendous fishery resource. Largemouth bass and crappie are probably the most sought-after fish on the lake, but walleye and catfish are also popular.

In spring, anglers enjoy the annual paddlefish snagging season. Paddlefish, sometimes called spoonbill, are native to the Osage River System. Years ago, paddlefish would swim up the Osage to spawn. Dams on the river interrupted this process. Today, paddlefish are raised in Department hatcheries and released back into the lake and river. They can grow very large, and make fine trophies for those who seek them out.

Hunters can also find success on the lake, especially in waterfowl hunting. Ducks and geese are attracted by the varied habitat. Protected coves, shallow backwaters and islands are excellent places to set up for waterfowl hunting. The sandbars on the Osage River are another good spot for waterfowl hunters.

Bird watchers and outdoor photographers have long known that the lake and the Osage River are good places to view and photograph birds. Besides the waterfowl, gulls, shorebirds and bald eagles are frequently seen in the area.

Every January, the Department hosts the annual “Eagle Day” event at the Willmore Lodge and Bagnell Dam Access. Bald eagles, attracted by the open water and abundance of food, can be viewed from the lodge and along the river as they sit in trees or fly along the river searching for food.

Other Opportunities

There are a number of conservation areas in the Central Region with trail systems that hikers or outdoor explorers can use. Grand Bluff, Hart Creek, Three Creeks, Prairie Home, Rudolph Bennitt and Diana Bend conservation areas have trails of varying lengths and surfaces. Some of these areas also have “overlook” sites, presenting elevated views of bottomland forests and river flood plains.

Camping is also permitted on many of the conservation areas. However, most of the camping is primitive, meaning there is a site but no amenities. Before setting up a tent, make sure to check the area regulations to see whether camping is permitted or if there are any limitations. As always, be careful with fire and remove litter when finished.

One of the real jewels of the region is the Runge Conservation Nature Center. Located in Jefferson City, the nature center offers something for almost everyone.

Hikers will enjoy the nearly 2.5 miles of trails that wind through the area. Wildlife watchers and photographers can add to their “life lists” or portfolios in the viewing area.

Inside the building, visitors can learn about Missouri habitats as they stroll through 3,000 square feet of exhibits. Nature programs, films, special events, a nature library and a gift shop provide a full day of activity for anyone looking for a fun and relaxing time with nature.

The Central Region of Missouri possesses a diversity of landforms, geologies and soils. This rich mixture has given rise to the many special opportunities here. Visit the Missouri Department of Conservation Web site at for more details, specific area regulations, trails and maps.

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