Places to Go

By |
From Missouri Conservationist: August 2017

Central Region: Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area

By Larry Archer

Scars from a history of coal mining become beauty marks.

Coal mining during the 1960s and early 1970s left this land scarred, but scars heal, and after time – and the right attention – they can become beauty marks. Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area (CA) bears such marks.

The pits have collected rain runoff and now make up the nearly 100 lakes and ponds that dot this 2,200-acre site roughly 6 miles north of Columbia.

“Most of it was coal mined – strip mined — and that’s why there’s so many fishing lakes out there now,” said Tim James, manager, Rocky Fork Lakes CA. “There’s about 700 acres that the coal company owned, but did not get mined, so it has those historic habitats on it: native grasslands and woodland complexes.”

Plentiful water, combined with stands of both woodland and grassland habitats, make Rocky Fork Lakes CA a birding destination. As many as 60 bird species have been identified on the site during the month of August in recent years.

It’s also a shooting destination. The site’s shooting range, which accommodates pistol, rifle, and shotgun shooting, was renovated in 2014 and sees steady traffic throughout the year. If you don’t mind the heat, August is a good time to beat the crowds, James said.

“There’s a waterfall on the site. It’s the outflow of Rocky Fork Lakes and drops about 15 feet or so. It’s a relic of the mining operation. It’s really cool, really attractive.”

—Rocky Fork Lakes, CA Manager Tim James

What to look for when you visit:

  • Largemouth bass
  • Eastern cottontail rabbit
  • Blue grosbeak
  • Rough greensnake

What to do when you visit:

Bird Watching: The diverse habitats attract a wide variety of migratory and resident bird species. Get the eBird Rocky Fork Lakes CA checklist at

Fishing: Bass, catfish, crappie, and sunfish in more than 30 lakes and ponds. The largest, 52-acre Rocky Fork Lake, includes a concrete boat ramp and ADA-accessible fishing dock.

Hiking: No designated trails, but the area is accessible via field roads.


  • Deer and Turkey - Good, deer and turkey regulations are subject to annual changes, so refer to the Spring Turkey and Fall Deer and Turkey booklets for the current rules.
  • Dove - Fair
  • Quail - Fair
  • Rabbit - Good
  • Squirrel - Fair
  • Waterfowl - Fair, diving ducks use Rocky Fork Lake during the migratory periods. Firearms Range: Shooting range includes 25-, 50-, and 100-yard distances. Clay target shooting area is also available, but is not ADA accessible. Ranges are closed from 9–10 a.m. Monday and Friday for maintenance.

Trapping and Field Trials: Special-use permits are required; inquire with the area manager.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler