It's hard to imagine what the Mississippi River floodplain was like before dams, levees, dikes, bank stabilization and channel dredging, a process that over the years all but eliminated islands and side channels that attracted diverse river wildlife.
Earlier this month, the Missouri Conservation Department and cooperating agencies dedicated Windy Bar Conservation Area, a five-mile-long, 705-acre island five miles north of Cape Girardeau. The new conservation area is important because of the fish, wildlife, waterfowl and eagles attracted to the area. Across the river is the 2,741-acre Devil's Island owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Windy Bar was purchased by the American Land Conservancy, which aims to restore up to 200,000 acres of river habitat by purchasing land from willing sellers and turning it over to public agencies.
The conservation area is open for hunting, trapping, fishing and other outdoor activities, all subject to state and federal rules and regulations. The island is accessible only by boat for now, but the conservations department hopes to add other access in the future.
Conservationists, hunters, fishermen, politicians and historians praised the new conservation area at its dedication as a way of returning a bit of what the mighty river once was to the public.