Places to Go

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From Missouri Conservationist: Jun 2015

Union Ridge Conservation Area

Union Ridge Conservation Area is home to Spring Creek Natural Area, the largest savanna landscape of its type in Missouri, which provides visitors a unique glimpse into the past.

Union Ridge Conservation Area consists of 8,263 acres located in Sullivan, Adair, and Putnam counties, and can be found just 30 minutes northwest of Kirksville. Most of the area was acquired in 1989 when the Conservation Department purchased the core of the property from Mutual Assurance Company of New York. Prior to acquisition, the area had been used for cattle ranching since the late 1800s and was known locally as Henley Ranch, and later as Spring Creek Ranch. With diverse natural communities, such as woodlands, forests, and savanna, Union Ridge is home to a wide array of plants and wildlife, including native wildflowers and songbirds, deer, turkey, and bobwhite quail.

The 1,769-acre Spring Creek Ranch Natural Area is the highlight of the conservation area, and is what much of north central Missouri looked like prior to European settlement. The unique savanna habitat in the natural area is found at the convergence of deciduous forests to the east and tallgrass prairie to the west. It’s characterized by scattered, open-grown oaks with an understory of native grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers. Historically, this natural community was maintained by fire, which created an open canopy and allowed sunlight to reach the ground, encouraging growth of these grasses and forbs.

The natural area includes a pristine prairie headwater stream and rare plants, such as dwarf chinkapin, quaking aspen, and prairie willow. Union Ridge also includes a 1,700-acre woodland restoration project on the northern portion of the conservation area.

Management of the area is focused heavily on natural community management for savanna, woodland, and forest habitats that benefit a wide variety of wildlife. Prescribed fire and woodland thinning are the primary management tools used, and control of nonnative and invasive species is also a priority.

Union Ridge Conservation Area offers opportunities for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. Anglers will find three stocked water bodies, including an 11-acre lake. More than 30 miles of interior field roads dissect the area and create good public access for birding, hiking, or hunting. A bird checklist for the area can be found at

If you want to enjoy the outdoors any time of year, put Union Ridge Conservation Area on your list. It’s definitely worth the trip.

—Ryan Jones, area manager

  • Recreation Opportunities: Bird watching, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, wildlife and nature viewing
  • Unique Features: Historic oak savanna, open woodlands, fishing lake and ponds
  • For More Information: Call 660-785-2420 or visit

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler