Local artists shine in State Parks contest honoring Earth Day

Gabriel Sedrick of Festus Elementary School took first place for his Earth Day artwork in the first and second grade category.

Jefferson County artists demonstrated their talents in the virtual youth art contest sponsored by Missouri State Parks in honor of Earth Day in April.

In the first and second grade category, artwork by Gabriel Sedrock of Festus Elementary School was selected as the first place winner, and Lena Massa of Crystal City earned third place honors. Faith Dedson of Hillsboro won third place in the third and fourth grade division. Other winners from nearby Jefferson County included Emberly and Ellyn Drury of Bloomsdale, and Laila Underwood of Tiff.

A happy Earth was the focus of the artwork by Lena Massa from Crystal City Elementary School. Her effort earned a third place award in the first and second grade category.

Nearly 600 Missouri artists from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade entered the contest. Submissions came in a variety of media including finger paintings, pencil sketches, watercolors, 3-D models, and clay sculptures. A panel of judges selected the award winners in five categories. First-, second- and third-place winners receive medals, and honorable mention recipients were sent certificates.

The award-winning artwork can be viewed on the Missouri State Parks Facebook and Flickr pages, and will be displayed at the Missouri State Museum in the Capitol during September.

Dying dogwood tree lost last big branch; state nursery to assist restart

The last big branch on my dying dogwood is still holding on to its stump, so it may remain green a little longer, but it’s time for some new seedlings to take its place.

Maybe it’s a bit over dramatic to say I discovered a sad sight in my backyard this weekend, but I was heartbroken to notice that the last live limb on the only big dogwood tree along our forest edge was on the ground.

The good news is that I beat the clock this year in the race to get flowering dogwood trees from the George O. White State Forest Nursery when the order form went active at 8 a.m. on Sept. 1. Nearly half of the tree species were sold out within the first few days. The website has been offline for a few days, but it appears flowering dogwoods may still be available if someone else is looking for a nature-nurture experience.

The bare-root, native tree seedlings from the conservation department are a tremendous bargain with prices per tiny tree no more than $1 each. For the first time in the nursery’s 80-plus-year history, state residents will have to pay shipping charges. A $9 handling fee and 6.1% sales tax is also added to each order.

Residents with a Conservation Heritage Card, Permit Card, or Conservation ID Number receive a 15% discount up to $20 off seedling orders. Seedlings are ordered by the bundle in lots of 10 or 25 depending of the size of the planting project.

The state nursery offers seedlings for more than 60 native species.

In addition to reforestation, trees may be planted to provide windbreaks, food and habitat for wildlife, or erosion control. Several of the tree options can do all of those things.

More than a dozen oak seedlings are offered at the nursery with common varieties like black, white, red, pin and bur oak trees available. Other more esoteric oaks the nursery can provide include chinkapin, concordia, nuttall, shumard and overcup oaks.

Bushes and shrubs that grow fruit and nuts for human consumption are also available including blackberries, elderberries and hazelnuts. Trees that offer edibles and potential pie filling include pecan, persimmon, pawpaw, black cherry, wild plum, walnut, and hickory.

Evergreen seedlings can be ordered too, and some of them are the least expensive trees available. Bundles of 100 trees are a little as $34 per package. Among the selections are loblolly, shortleaf and white pines, and Norway spruce or eastern red cedar trees.

Staff at the George O. White State Forest Nursery are shown tending to the trees in Licking, Mo., in this conservation department photo.

“The nursery grows millions of seedlings each year, but some species are very popular and sell out quickly,” said Forest Nursery Supervisor Mike Fiaoni. “And some seedlings occasionally succumb to harsh weather or hungry wildlife, despite the nursery staff’s best efforts.”

Even if a species is listed as “sold out,” Fiaoni said, customers can still place an order for those seedlings because other orders may get canceled, freeing up inventory. Customers won’t be charged for seedlings unless they are available to ship.

Orders are processed Sept. 1 through April 15, and are shipped from February to May depending on the best time for planting. The most reliable order form is online at mdc.mo.gov/trees-plants/tree-seedlings, because the availability of seedlings is kept up-to-date. An order form is published in the September issue of the Missouri Conservationist magazine each year. For more information call the nursery at 573-674-3229, or send an email to StateForestNursery@mdc.mo.gov.

My 10 little dogwoods and 10 wild plums are scheduled to arrive in April.

Originally published by Leader Publications on Sept. 1, 2022.

Sunflowers attract photographers now and dove hunters later

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is enormous, which seems opposite of everything else I saw in a recent visit to my old hometown of Spanish Lake in north St. Louis County. My old school, the county park, my old house, the road I grew up on, were all miniatures of what I remember.

But not “The Bottoms” where I hunted for doves and shot crows with permission of the former farmers who tilled, planted and harvested the fertile flood plain. After historic river levels in 1993 and 1995 swamped the land at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, the state Department of Conservation purchased the 4,318-acre area for public use.

What seemed walkable to me as a shotgun-toting teen a few decades ago, sprawled endlessly from the front gate to the banks of both rivers. I was practically winded from driving the winding roads. How did I ever trudge across its expanse looking for a shot at something flying by?

The sunflower fields at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area are smaller than I expected, but the property is massive.

The area has barely begun to recover from another devastating flood in 1999. The visitors center is closed, and most of the area’s roads and trails remain impassable. The canoe and kayak access on the Mississippi River is unavailable, and you can no longer drive to the confluence point where the two biggest streams in North America become one.

What remains current are plantings of sunflowers for wildlife and patches of corn to feed waterfowl and other birds during their annual migrations. Those golden globes are a photographer magnet this time of year. I was expecting enormous fields of flowers but found food plots instead. They were still pretty, and the other wildflowers all over the area were fun to find. The bees and the butterflies seemed very happy.

Sunflowers are planted for mourning doves, and the hunting season for these birds begins on Sept. 1. Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is only open for dove hunting during managed hunts that require application in July.

The conservation department provides other public access dove hunting opportunities at more than 70 properties around the state that do not require advanced registration to participate. Pacific Palisades in northwest Jefferson County is one of those locations.

A seven-acre sunflower field is available to all hunters during the season, which remains open until Nov. 29. The daily limit is 15 and the possession limit 45. Hunters are required to have a small-game permit and an annual migratory bird hunting permit.

Most of the dove hunting areas in the state, including Columbia Bottom and Pacific Palisades require hunters to use non-toxic shot. Other managed dove fields in our region are at the August A. Busch Memorial, Marais Temps Clair, and Weldon Spring conservation areas in St. Charles County.

Mourning doves may seem like an easy target for hunters, but they are agile aviators adept at dodging danger.

Missouri is home to three species of dove and all three are legal to shoot. Mourning doves are most common, but hunters may also harvest white-winged doves and Eurasian collared doves. White-winged doves are generally found in Mexico and the southwest US. The slightly larger collared-doves were imported to the Bahamas in the 1970s and have slowly spread their way north from Florida and the southeast.

Because doves are a migratory species their populations are monitored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as well at the state conservation department. Hunters may shoot a bird with a small, numbered leg band. The number on the band should be reported to online at reportband.gov or by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

John J. Winkelman has been writing about outdoors news and issues in Jefferson County for more than 30 years and is the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas, e-mail ogmjohnw@aol.com.
Originally published by Leader Publications on Aug. 18, 2022

Local meetings planned to provide updates about CWD control efforts

The 292 positive chronic wasting disease cases documented in Missouri seem like a statistical blip among the 210,000 tissue samples tested since the disease was first discovered in the state in 2011. It’s even less dramatic compared to the more than 2 million deer that have been harvested by hunters over those same years.

But locally in and around Jefferson County the numbers are significant and recent reporting shows the effort to control CWD going the wrong direction. Actually, a case should be made that finding more is better, because those diseased deer are no longer infecting others in their herd. It would be much worse to be in a state that refused or limited testing, because it seemed better not to know. Claiming something bad doesn’t exist, because you don’t look for it does not seem like a positive approach.

The incidence of chronic wasting disease in Jefferson County is concentrated south of Festus and east of De Soto.

Chronic wasting disease is a deadly infectious disease that eventually kills all animals it affects. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread from deer to humans who consume them, but it is similar to the degenerative brain disorders mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

The state Department of Conservation works to investigate potential for the disease and to inform the public and hunters about efforts to control the spread among deer. Three public meetings are planned in the region, which has become a hot spot for CWD based on recent testing.

The first meeting is planned from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at the Festus VFW. The second and third meetings have the same time schedule on Aug. 10 at the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center, and Aug. 16 at Perry Park Center in Perryville.

“If you’ve been to our public meetings before, these will be different,” said Matt Bowyer, administrator for the conservation department’s southeast region. “The goal of this meeting is to update you on management of CWD in the area and to provide landowners with different strategies to help manage the disease throughout the year.”

Among the new strategies will be opportunities for landowners and hunters to harvest additional deer during the regular hunting season. Emphasis in recent years has been on piling up samples in targeted areas after the hunting seasons have ended. From January through March this year, an additional 3,000 deer were taken for testing during post-season targeted culling in the specific areas where the disease had been detected.

A sick deer found in Cape Girardeau in January 2021 tested positive for chronic wasting disease. Most cases are discovered in healthy looking deer harvested by hunters. (Missouri Department of Conservation photo.)

Jefferson County reported 12 new cases this past season in an area south of Festus and east of De Soto. In the five previous years since the disease was first discovered here, there had been only nine total cases. Ste. Genevieve County had an even larger jump with 15 new cases this season.

The meetings will provide general information on chronic wasting disease and the steps the state is taking to monitor and manage the disease. Other topics will address proper deer-carcass handling and disposal to help limit the spread, how hunters can participate in the Share the Harvest program to provide lean meat to local food pantries, voluntary CWD testing efforts, and mandatory sampling in certain counties during the opening weekend of firearms deer season. Conservation department staff will be available to answer questions.

Landowners who receive notification letters may apply for management permits to allow hunters to take additional deer during the season. The letter includes information on the application process. Hunters who participate through cooperating landowners need to provide their names, birth dates and conservation ID numbers.

For more information about the local meetings call 573-332-4940.

Hunters everywhere in the state can help manage the disease by getting the deer they harvest tested. More information about testing options, and the map showing positive case locations, is available at mdc.mo.gov/cwd.

Originally published by Leader Publications on July 28, 2022.

Consider safety when enjoying time in the great outdoors

Having fun in the great outdoors is easy, but making sure you stay safe while doing it takes a little bit more attention.

Not too many years ago, relatively speaking, I would take on summer fun with more reckless abandon, but over time I’ve learned from a few mistakes and managed to survive a few close scrapes to be able to offer some guidance for those who don’t want to learn by trial and error.

Adequate sunscreen is a don’t-leave-home-without-it item anytime you are going to experience hours of exposure, but it is particularly important when highly reflective water is part of the activity. Reapplying is also important when the first coat washes or gets sweated off.

Paul Drury’s hat, like the rest of him, is way cooler than me and my wide-brimmed sun shade.

Whether I am fishing, hiking, or golfing in the sunshine, I pride myself on wearing the most ridiculous floppy hat on the course. Sunglasses are as helpful for eye protection as they are in cutting down glare allowing vision through the water.

Fair-skinned and freckled, I am certainly more susceptible to sunburn, but I know plenty of dark-complected people who turned a day on the water into a rock lobster imitation by the end of the evening.

Drink plenty of water and limited amounts of alcoholic beverages when out on hot summer days. Cold drinks and boating seem like a perfect combination, but operating a watercraft while intoxicated is a dangerous situation. When the temperatures soar and the humidity soaks your shirt with sweat, you almost can’t re-hydrate enough. Snacks like watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, and tomatoes provide added liquid your diet. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty.

Wade fishing is my favorite summer outdoor activity, but rivers and lakes can be dangerous places to step off of the shore and into the water. The bottom surface is never consistent and can change rapidly. River currents can be sneaky strong just a few paces away from where you seem to be standing on firm ground.

Rivers usually provide clearer water that may provide a view to the bottom surface, but the depth can change by feet instead of inches in an instant. I consider myself a strong swimmer but swift water that is over your head can make reaching the shore challenging, especially while trying to hold a fishing rod and reel above the water level while you kick and pull with your free arm.

Personal flotation devices are required for each person on a boat, but wearing them is considered optional for adults. Anytime the “big motor” is providing power, wearing your like jacket should be an individual mandate.

Good insect repellent may not smell attractive, but fragrant lotions have never been as effective for me. When you are spending your day on the water or in woods this time of year, you are going to need a shower before the end of the day anyway, so be sure to liberally apply bug spray especially on your shoes and socks to avoid chiggers, ticks and mosquitoes. They can provide reminders of your outing for days, weeks, or even longer term in some cases.

Last but not least is attention to outdoor burning. Campfires are a staple of a great summer time outing, but the potential danger extends well beyond the fire pit. Getting too close to the flame is an obvious concern, but keeping that fire contained during dry conditions is important to the woods we enjoy.

Campgrounds usually have fabricated fire places, but when planning an outdoor burn site that isn’t predetermined, be sure to clear a wide area around the fire site. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids to stoke or start a fire. Keep fire extinguishing options like a bucket of water close by, and always put the fire out at night before heading to the tent or camper.

Fireworks are fun for community displays, but they are too dangerous for places that are surrounded by dry grass, leaves and forest under story. Most public camping areas prohibit fireworks.

Enjoy the great outdoors, but remember to do it safely.

Originally published by Leader Publications on July 14, 2022.

Area offers ample opportunities for National Hiking Day

For 30 years the American Hiking Society has invited people to enjoy the outdoors on National Hiking Day on the first Saturday in June. Several of Missouri’s state parks are planning special events to mark the day, but finding a place to escape into the woods doesn’t require an itinerary or agenda.

Still, the planned events offer advantages of local experts and explanations. At Washington State Park south of De Soto, the National Trails Day program includes three distinct activities beginning at 2 p.m. on June 4.

The Senior Stroll will walk to the base of the 1,000 Steps Trail at Washington State Park.

Designated as a Senior Stroll, park staff will lead a half-mile hike along the base of the 1,000 Steps Trail, starting from Thunderbird Lodge. The walk in the woods welcomes participants of all ages and abilities. The natural surface trail is well packed and passable, and staff members will point out the features of the Big River day use area at the park.

At 4 p.m. a tour of the petroglyph site at Washington State Park will include a park naturalist leading the way through the covered walkway and interpretive panels to provide details about the Mississippian-era community and its inhabitants who made carvings in the stones.

Beginning at 7 p.m. a program on hiking at night will be presented at the park campground amphitheater. Following the presentation, a short hike will be held in the campground to put the night hiking safety tips into action.

The Stone Bridge at Babler State Park is one of many interesting features along the trail.

Those looking for a traditional hiking experience would enjoy the two-mile excursion planned on the Dogwood Trail at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park in Wildwood from 10 a.m. to noon on June 4. The trail is moderate grade, so good hiking shoes are recommended, along with drinking water and insect repellent. Park staff will lead the hike from the Guy Park Trailhead.

Although it is not officially a National Trails Day event, the Rockin’ at Robertsville State Park free concert planned for 6 p.m. on June 4 should offer plenty of family fun. The show will be held in the park’s day-use area with some picnic tables available. The park has several excellent hiking opportunities for a pre-show walk.

Don Robinson State Park near Cedar Hill doesn’t have events planned for National Hiking Day, but the park has excellent trails, including an all-accessible, concrete path that travels from the parking into the woods.

In addition to being great outdoor exercise, hiking can be a link to history.

Mastodon State Historic Site in Imperial also has fantastic hiking trails without an official program planned for June 4. The museum is the major draw for the area, but the hiking trail in the lower park area south of Seckman Road provides an easy hike, and the trails on the north side of the county road offer more challenging treks.

The state Department of Conservation areas in Jefferson County have designated hiking trails that offer variety along side the fresh air and scenery. The most unique of these places are the Victoria Glades and Valley View Glades natural areas east and west of Hillsboro respectively.

Because of their geology the flora and fauna is specialized to the areas. Shallow soil over and around big rocks limits the ability for most plants to grow, so hikers are treated to naturally wide-open views. Closer inspection of the earth and its inhabitants will reveal plants and animals that are adapted to the harsh conditions.

The pristine LaBarque Creek in northwest Jefferson County is one of the most unspoiled wild areas in the St. Louis region.

The Hilda Young, Glassberg Family, and LaBarque Creek conservation areas in northwest Jefferson County combine forces to protect one of the most pristine wildlife areas in the St. Louis region. Hiking trails in each location offer everything from creek-side strolls to ridge-top river vistas.

Whether you are at a state park or on private property, hiking on Saturday will connect you with walkers across the country who have been recognizing the benefits of outdoor life for 30 years.

Originally published by Leader Publications June 6, 2022.

Dirty dozen: CWD cases spike in Jefferson County deer

When the deer I shot last fall tested positive for chronic wasting disease, I was sad but not totally shocked. At the time it just seemed unlucky that of all the deer sampled in Jefferson County, mine was one of only three with a positive/negative result.

With additional testing and post-season targeted culling, the number of new reports spiked for the 2021-22 hunting season. From the first discovery of CWD in a deer killed near Meert’s Tree Farm in 2016, through June of 2021, only nine deer had tested positive in the county. This fall and winter, 12 new infections were confirmed, all in south of Festus and east of De Soto.

Twelve additional locations in Jefferson County have been added to the map for positive CWD tests.

Between July 2021 and April 2022 the state Department of Conservation sampled more than 32,000 deer statewide and 86 tested positive for CWD. With 15 additional cases this year, Ste. Genevieve County had the highest total, followed by Jefferson and Linn counties with 12.

Ten new cases were also found this year in Macon County where the first free-ranging deer to test positive for the disease was discovered in 2011. Along with neighboring Linn County, it has been the hot-zone in the state, but when merging the totals with Franklin and Ste. Genevieve counties, things are more than just warm in Jefferson County.

The local trio is responsible for 101 of the 292 cases statewide. Linn and Macon counties account for 92 combined. Adair County in north central Missouri adds 24 cases to the overall total number of cases in that region since 2011.

Chronic wasting disease continues to show up in new locations each year. The results from the 2021-22 season found a first time positive test from Washington County near Blackwell, and new cases for Barry, Christian and Howell counties in southwest Missouri.

More than 18,700 of deer tested were sampled as part of mandatory submissions during the opening weekend of the November portion of the firearms deer season. Hunters who harvested deer in any of the 34 management zone counties during that weekend were required to present their deer for testing.

After the close of regular deer seasons in January, about 3,000 samples were collected from localized areas where CWD has been found. Landowners can voluntarily remove deer through the targeted culling program.

“These landowners are critical in slowing the spread of CWD by removing additional infected deer from the landscape and reducing deer numbers in targeted areas,” said Jasmine Batten wildlife health program supervisor for the conservation department. “All meat from deer that do not test positive for CWD is either returned to the landowner or donated to Share the Harvest.”

I did participate in the post-season targeted culling effort, but never added to the statistics. I couldn’t bring myself to spotlighting or night hunting techniques that are approved, and my feeble attempts at baiting attracted only squirrels and crows while I was hunting.

Batten also thanked the hunters, taxidermists, and meat processors who helped with sampling.

“We are very grateful to the thousands of deer hunters who brought in their deer for CWD sampling, along with the 109 taxidermists and 34 meat processors across the state who collected and submitted more than 9,000 CWD samples,” Batten said. “These important partners provide critical surveillance data, give hunters additional opportunities to have their deer tested, and ensure that meat from deer harvested in CWD Management Zone counties is tested before venison donations are sent to food pantries.”

A number that stands out in the final report from the state are the 6,000-plus tests that were conducted outside the management zones statewide. Those can be credited to the taxidermists and processors who make the free testing available in places CWD hasn’t been found. In the 80 counties outside the management zones, it is likely that deer have the disease. Voluntary testing, particularly for older bucks, should lead to more discoveries.

Chronic wasting disease is a deadly infectious disease that eventually kills all animals it affects. Hunters can help manage the disease by getting the deer they harvest tested. More information about testing options, and the map showing positive case locations, is available at mdc.mo.gov/cwd.

Originally published by Leader Publications on May 5, 2022.

New book establishes authority as standard for bird identification

One of my favorite perks about this outdoor writer gig is the opportunity to review new books before they are available to the public. When I was given the chance to see an advanced copy of All About Birds Midwest, I jumped at the opportunity.

At first look, it reminded me of the Peterson Field Guide for Eastern Birds that had been at my mom and dad’s house. Roger Torey Peterson published his first guide in 1934, and the copy I have is dated 1980. I’ll still use it as a reference, but the book from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sets a new standard.

Instead of Peterson’s illustrations, the new book features multiple detailed, zoom photographs of each bird. Every page has a range map, and description including details considered the keys to bird identification: size and shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat. A special note about each species is also included.

Published by Princeton Press, the series includes All About Birds books for California, Texas and Oklahoma, Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast and the Midwest. Missouri marks the southern edge for the Midwest book, and includes states east to Indiana, west to Kansas and the Dakota, and into central Canada.

The Midwest book highlights 221 of the most common species for the region. The details and images are a collection of information from the AllAboutBirds.org website by The Cornell Lab, which also offers a free bird ID app called Merlin.

The introductory portion of the book includes tips for beginner bird-watchers, basics for good bird photography, tricks for attracting birds to your backyard feeder, features of a good birdhouse, and ways to get involved in protecting bird species.

According to the new book, “the ruby-throated hummingbird is the sole breeding hummingbird in the eastern US and Canada. These precision flying creatures glitter in the full sun, and are common at feeders, and in flower gardens in the summer. In the fall, they head south, with many crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight.”

Hummingbird feeders come in a variety shapes and styles. Finding one with a look you like should be easy. An important consideration is ease of cleaning, because while filling the feeder is simple, keeping the feeder clean and nectar fresh is essential.

The standard sugar-water recipe calls for four parts water and one part sugar. Boiling the water is not required, and plain white cane sugar is the best bet. Homemade nectar should never be made with honey, brown sugar, fruit or other substitute. It can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Adding red food color to the water is discouraged, but most prepared nectar mixes include red dye. There is scant evidence that the artificial color is harmful for the little birds, but it is not necessary so why risk it.

Originally published by Leader Publications on April 6, 2022.

Whitewater racing returns to the St. Francis River

Scott Swafford paddles hard to turn his canoe into an upstream gate on the St. Francis River in the 55th annual Missouri Whitewater Championships.

I didn’t get a chance to see Mason Gagnon run the St. Francis River in the Missouri Whitewater Championships, but I did make it to Millstream Gardens in time to see my college fraternity brother Scott Swafford navigate the slalom gates in his open canoe.

The races appear to be quite a workout for the paddlers, and Scott told me his earlier run in a two-man canoe, took a lot out of him before his solo race that I was able to watch. What follows is the preview story I wrote for Leader Publications about Mason and the 55th annual championships.

Sixteen-year-old Mason Gagnon of Hillsboro in his kayak on the Ocoee River in Tennessee.

Since 2019 when he earned a medal as a novice in the Missouri Whitewater Championships, Mason Gagnon, 16, of Hillsboro, has been anxious to get back to the St. Francis River to compete in the expert division.

“There are two different races, downriver and slalom,” Mason explained. “In the downriver you go as fast as you can paddle. The course can be pretty long, from 3 to 4 miles. You get one shot at your best time.”

The downriver race on Friday evening goes from Millstream Gardens to the Highway D bridge at the Silver Mines Recreation Area, about three miles downstream. A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri from the state Department of Conservation describes that stretch of the St. Francis River.

A canoeist aims his boat downstream for a plunge through Tiemann Shut-ins at the location called Big Drop.

“A mile of continuous rapids with sharp drops. The steepest drop on the river is four to six feet depending on the water stage, but the chute has a difficult S-curve approach. Rocky rapids continue to Silver Mine Dam. A breech blown in the left side of the dam is runable, but in high water produces a wave at the bottom which would swamp an open canoe. A ‘rock garden’ run from here to the bridge.”

Slalom races are held Saturday and Sunday. The press release from the Missouri Whitewater Association described the set-up as “20 or so downstream and upstream gates that course designers never fail to place in the most diabolical parts of the river. Touching a gate with boat, paddle or person brings a five-second time penalty; missing one costs 50 seconds. Avoiding penalties is crucial because a fast run with no penalties usually falls in the range of 3.5 minutes, and winners can be decided by tenths of a second.”

Spectators scatter across granite boulders along the Tiemann Shut-ins section of the St. Francis River at Millstream Gardens Conservation Area.

The slalom course is in an area of Millstream Gardens known as Tiemann Shut-ins, which provides a natural amphitheater for spectators. Steep banks of pink, pre-Cambrian granite squeeze the river to form challenging rapids and give the audience unique scenery and perches to watch the races.

Attendance is free for the event and spectators are welcome to bring their own food and drink. Concessions are available in the park including burgers, bratwurst, burritos and beverages.

The association recommends dressing for the weather and especially recommends shoes that are appropriate for slick rocks that are everywhere near the river.

Millstream Gardens is south of Highway 72 in Madison County, about 11 miles west of Fredericktown and 11 miles east of Ironton.

Content originally published by Leader Publications on March 17, 2022.

Clean up and festival planned for Meramec River and area parks

The Meramec River draws most attention in the Jefferson County area when it escapes its banks, but a big event later this month is planned to provide assistance to the natural resources along the stream.

In addition to clean-up activities on the river, simultaneous events will take place at other public places along the watershed. After the work, some fun is planned with a festival and musical entertainment.

The Dome Life Stream Team Mid-Meramec River Cleanup begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 19, in multiple locations including Don Robinson State Park, Pacific Palisades, LaBarque Creek, Hilda J. Young, and the Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family conservation areas in Jefferson County.

The boat launch at Robertsville State Park on the Meramec River will be busy with clean-up crews for a special event on Saturday, March 19.

Other nearby locations where clean-ups will take place are at Robertsville and Route 66 state parks, Catawissa Conservation Area and Allenton Access. Efforts will focus on land and water trash collections as well as invasive plant species removal.

Robertsville State Park will host the post clean-up festival that afternoon and evening. Beginning at 3:30 p.m. food trucks will be available in the park along with educational and informational booths, nature programs, and activities for all ages. Live local music performances are scheduled from 7 to 10 p.m.

The event and festival are free, but participants must register online at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/4os to select an activity location.

The state Department of Conservation is coordinating the event along with the Missouri Stream Teams organization and Dome Life, a camping life-style clothing brand that commits 10 percent of each purchase to clean-up events at public campgrounds, trail systems and waterways.

LaBarque Creek is one of the St. Louis region’s most pristine wilderness areas.

With the exception of Pacific Palisades, the four other clean-up sites in Jefferson County will focus on improvements to the LaBarque Creek watershed. The stream’s headwaters begin near Don Robinson State Park and the LaBarque Creek Conservation Area. The stream flows northeast through the Glassberg and Young areas where the creek joins the Meramec River.

Considered one of the pristine wildlife spaces in the St. Louis region, the creek and its tributaries are home to at least 54 aquatic species, which is about three times greater than other streams that feed the Meramec River in the area.

Contrary to the wildness of LaBarque Creek, evidence of human habitation and development are often associated with the lower Meramec River. Clean-up and improvement efforts have made great progress, and this event is an opportunity to do more for a resource that has much to offer.

The scars of industrialization and so-called civilization are most evident on the Meramec from its confluence with the Mississippi River at Arnold and throughout most of St. Louis County. In the 26-mile segment designated for attention during the clean-up, the river begins its transition toward the more wild reaches of its upper flows.

Fishing on the river from its cold-water trout areas and along its entire length can be good. The smallmouth bass special management area in Crawford County was one of the first to be implemented in the state. Other popular game fish to target in the Meramec are largemouth and spotted bass, rock bass, catfish and suckers.

When the river floods, and it will again, the community’s attention will be drawn to its potential for devastation, but on Saturday, March 19, volunteers can pay it forward for all the good times the Meramec River is capable of providing.

Originally published by Leader Publications on March 10, 2022.