Fields, bottomland forest, woodlands, and river views make this Madison County area a diamond in the rough of mining country.
This 916-acre conservation area consists of open fields and pine and oak woodlands and has an interesting history. Prior to 1979, the area was a privately owned tourist destination, with replica pioneer villages and acres of planted flower gardens. While a few of these domesticated flowers can still be found today, most have been replaced with native wildflowers such as wild sweet williams, purple coneflowers, daisies, blazing stars, and buttercups. These native flowers can be seen blooming in the spring and summer along roads and the four hiking trails found on the area.
Due to ancient volcanic activity, large granite boulders and outcrops can be found throughout the forest. The St. Francis River, which cuts through the middle of the area, has granite shut-ins — narrow corridors of rock that the river is forced through. The shut-ins form fast-moving chutes and rapids when the water level is high, especially after a rain. These rapids are a favorite destination for kayak enthusiasts. The Missouri Whitewater Association holds its annual kayak races here during the third weekend in March. Part of the river and its wooded corridors are also designated as the St. Francis River Natural Area because of the unique geology and aquatic habitat that are home to several species of mussels.
The area north of the river has a lot of recreational activities to offer. Hiking along the river bluffs, one can enjoy several scenic vistas. The paved disabled-accessible Turkey Creek Trail winds through the forest and ends at a scenic overlook of the river. A picnic pavilion also overlooks the shut-ins and is near a unique tree. This tree, known as the curly tree by locals, is a shortleaf pine with a donut-like curl in the middle of the trunk.
The area south of the river, accessible from State Highway D, is a great place to see wildlife management at work. Bottomland forests, sunny woodlands, and fields of native grasses can be found here, along with food plots and brush piles. A portion of this area was once completely barren from years of overgrazing by hogs. Thanks to conservation planning and land management, this area is now a thriving field of native grasses and forbs. Hunting and wildlife viewing are also especially popular on the southern portion of the area.
Millstream Gardens Conservation Area is located along Highway 72 between Fredericktown and Arcadia.
—Becky Fletcher, area manager
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