The Center of It All
Residents and visitors to central Missouri will find a variety of options for outdoor recreation. Hunters, anglers, hikers, photographers and other outdoor enthusiasts will find most of these convenient to highways 50, 54, 63 and 70.
The Missouri Department of Conservation refers to this portion of the state as the Central Region. The Central Region is made up of 15 counties that are organized for management purposes. The Department’s management objectives include providing diverse outdoor recreational opportunities for the public.
While one short article could never encompass all the recreational potential of the Central Region, we’ll take a look at some of the key areas and features in the region and a few activities to explore.
No description of central Missouri would be complete without mention of the Missouri River. Perhaps the most dominant feature in the region, the Missouri flows roughly from northwest to southeast, 265 miles through the region. This dynamic river provides vital habitat for fish and wildlife, and the bottomlands along the river provide access and opportunities for anglers, hunters, photographers and other resource users.
Anglers have long recognized the Missouri River as the place to be for catching catfish. Channel catfish, blue catfish and flatheads are eagerly sought after by bank-fishers and those in boats. Catching a real trophy fish is likely on this river. Flatheads and blues in excess of 50 pounds are not uncommon. Record-breaking or not, though, it’s hard to beat a plate full of deep-fried flathead.
The areas behind and along the wing dikes and sandbars are good locations to set trot lines, limb lines, bank lines or to cast your rod and reel in search of these whiskered fish.
Waterfowl hunters also target the slack water behind the dikes and the islands. Ducks and geese often use the river as a migratory flyway, stopping to rest and feed in those areas.
Those who hunt along the river find a mixed bag of waterfowl. Ducks may include mallards, teal, scaup, ringneck and goldeneyes. Canada, snows and white-fronted geese also use these areas and can make for an exciting hunt when they come through Missouri in the fall and winter.
The Department developed and currently maintains 10 Missouri River access sites with boat ramps in the region. These areas are located on both sides of the river, making them convenient for people to access.
The conservation areas along the Missouri River are another great resource. These areas serve as important buffers—protecting 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.
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 www.missouriconservation.org/atlas for more details, specific area regulations, trails and maps.