Celebrate spring’s return at this large, deeply forested area southwest of St. Louis.
April is a great time to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities at Pea Ridge Conservation Area in northwest Washington County. This large, diverse area atop karst topography will be starting to glow with flowering spring trees and shrubs and twittering with early returning migrant songbirds. Aside from taking in spring’s attractions, visitors can also camp and fish as well as hunt during designated seasons.
Totaling 8,389 acres, Pea Ridge includes four tracts of land scattered across several different routes between Sullivan and Potosi. The 5,470-acre main tract on Highway 185 is composed of oak, hickory and pine. Managers use a variety of techniques to maintain the area’s many types of wildlife habitat, which include riparian corridors, fields, savannas and glades. An unsual type of wetland called a fen lies in a remote part of the area.
The main tract also includes three springs, a sinkhole, a dolomite (type of limestone common in Missouri) cliff, 11 dolomite glades and more than 3 miles of Indian Creek, an Ozark headwater stream. Moisture-loving plants, such as wild hydrangea, common fragile fern, pawpaw, basswood and wild ginger, grow at the base of the dolomite cliff. In the summer, visitors will enjoy seeing drought-tolerant plants, such as little bluestem, side-oats grama grass, Missouri black-eyed Susan and pale purple coneflower growing on the dolomite glades.
In April, the area puts on its spring finery of white dogwood, shadbush and lowbush blueberry blossoms, pink redbuds and tender, golden-green tree leaves. Birders will welcome the early returning migrant songbirds, including such species as Louisiana waterthrush, pine warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, hermit thrush and winter wrens.
Although there are no designated hiking trails, visitors can walk along access roads leading to the area’s many parking lots. Northwest of the parking area on Indian Creek are designated seasonal (from Sept. 15 to May 15) primitive campsites. Other designated primitive campsites on the area are open during firearms deer season.
The area is open to hunting under statewide regulations, and hunters can pursue deer, dove, rabbit, squirrel and turkey during season. Trapping is allowed in season with a special-use permit. Although there is little fishing in the area’s many small streams, anglers will find a fair population of sunfish in Hi Pointe Lake.
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