Here’s a riddle for you: What do the Missouri towns of Bluffton, Hart Creek and Rocheport have in common?
The answer is that they all are communities located in the Central Region, adjacent to the Missouri River. They also happen to have conservation areas nearby with new developments on them.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has recently focused on enhancing some of the conservation areas in the Central Region, and it is concentrating efforts on those near the Missouri River. The developments are part of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration and are designed to promote education of conservation and the Missouri River, as well as increase opportunities for the public to enjoy their conservation areas.
So follow along and learn about the new opportunities Missourians have to enjoy conservation areas in the central part of the state.
In 2003, construction began on a 1-mile trail and a deck overlook. The deck sits atop a 300-foot-tall fluted dry dolomite bluff that rises above the Missouri River floodplain and provides a serene view of the Missouri River, bottomland fields, Highway 94 and adjacent bluffs.
At the overlook, you can read an interpretive sign about Lewis and Clark and the Missouri River, study the glade-loving plants that surround the deck on a grassy knob, observe farmers working their crops in the bottomland fields below and enjoy the scenic vista that stretches both far and wide.
Grand Bluffs Scenic Overlook Trail leads users through maple/oak forest, prairie and an old orchard where a pear tree still bears in the fall to the deck overlook. The area is particularly gratifying to visit in the spring when woodland wildflowers abound and in the autumn for the bright fall colors. Hunting on the area is permitted under statewide regulations except that firearms firing single projectiles are prohibited. This 222-acre area is mostly forest and contains savanna, prairie and glades.
Grand Bluffs Conservation Area is located five miles east of Portland along Highway 94 in Montgomery County, a quarter-mile off Highway 94 on Bluffton Road. The Katy Trail runs along the southern border of the area.
Driving along Jemerson Creek Road north of Hartsburg, you may notice a new development on Hart Creek Conservation Area. On the west side of the road is a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge crossing Jemerson Creek. This bridge allows area users to access a 1.5-mile bicycle and hiking trail that bisects the area and ends on the opposite side along the Katy Trail.
A deck overlook is also being built on a spur off the trail. It provides a view of the Missouri River at a dramatic bend, as well as Marion Bottoms Conservation Area on the opposite side of the river. This area can be accessed by gravel road on the east or the Katy Trail on the west. A primitive camping site for users who want to camp off the Katy Trail is also available at this location.
Crappie fishing on a 5-acre pond and both mushroom and turkey hunting are popular activities in the spring. Fall is a good time to enjoy the colorful sugar maples and basswood trees along the ridge trail.
Hartsburg also happens to be famous for its Pumpkin Festival. Many years, the fields below the bluffs of Hart Creek Conservation Area at the Overlook site yield hundreds of bright-orange pumpkins in the fall.
Hart Creek Conservation Area is 657 acres and is located three-quarters of a mile northwest of Hartsburg on Jemerson Creek Road in Boone County.
If the quaint town of Rocheport and the picturesque section of the Katy Trail between Moniteau Creek and the I-70 bridge were not attractive enough to entice you to this part of the state, Diana Bend Conservation Area now offers new developments sure to please enthusiasts of boardwalks, birding, waterfowl hunting or scenic views.
Winner of a Coalition for Recreational Trails Award, the project at Diana Bend Conservation Area consisted of constructing two new trails, two viewing decks and a wildlife viewing blind. A disabled-accessible boardwalk leads users from the Katy Trail at the old railroad tunnel (just west of Rocheport) around the hillside to an open platform and wildlife viewing blind. From the accessible blind, a person can observe the floodplain and wetland restoration in progress or sneak a peek at the variety of waterfowl and shorebirds that use this river area.
Leading uphill from the viewing platform is a second, steep wood-chipped trail. This trail traverses the hill the train tunnel passes through and ends at a higher overlook with commanding views of the conservation area wetlands and the Missouri River.
Diana Bend Conservation Area is 1,343 acres. More than half wetlands, it also contains riparian forest, old fields and cropland.
You can access developments at Diana Bend Conservation Area by traveling an eighth of a mile west of Rocheport on the Katy Trail. Rocheport is two miles northwest of Hwy. I-70 at the Missouri River Bridge on Hwy. BB in Boone County.
In addition to these three conservation areas, similar development is occurring on Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area near McBaine in Boone County. A deck overlook and a set of steps leading from the base of an immense limestone bluff to the top is in the works. This will allow users to view wetland management and the abundance of waterfowl at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area.
All the areas mentioned here are either adjacent or in close proximity to the Katy Trail, which is managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. So, get out and enjoy the Central Region, its varied trails and conservation areas and the Missouri River.
Questions about these and other Central Region conservation areas can be answered by calling the Missouri Department of Conservation Central Regional Office at (573) 884-6861. Information on all conservation areas can be found in the online Conservation Atlas at missouriconservation.org.
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