Go exploring in 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010
The trail in Pickle Springs surfaces above the trees at Dome Rock, providing a panoramic view of the Pickle Creek Valley. (JAMES BAUGHN ~ Southeast Missourian)

While many stories have taken a look back at 2009 or at the decade that began the millennium, Good Times partnered with people in the community to look forward to 2010. Using that perfect round number, we compiled lists of top 10s -- CDs, books, places to go and places to volunteer.

As a year of financial cutbacks and vacation cancellations draws to a close, the Southeast Missourian's resident explorer James Baughn and the Missouri Department of Conservation's media specialist Candice Davis recommended the top 10 parks and conservation areas to visit in 2010.

Davis, who went to work for the conservation department in 2008, said she hadn't realize how many places Missouri had marked for recreation.

"I was actually really surprised when I came to the department," she said.

In no particular order, the recommendations from Baughn and Davis:

Current River offers a plethora of outdoor activities year-round, from canoeing to floating to hiking. (Missouri Department of Conservation)

Current River

Many people are familiar with the river as they float down it, but the Current River Conservation Area combines Deer Run, Carrs Creek, Cardareva and Paint Rock state forests to form a 28,000-acre area. It has picnic areas, Buford Pond -- a fishable three-acre pond -- plenty of hiking and bird watching.

Nature Center exhibits

To get a flavor of the flora and fauna of Southeast Missouri without enduring the elements, visit the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center in Cape County Park North. Aside from specially scheduled activities like films, workshops or crafting, the center opens daily with exhibits, an auditorium and a nature shop. The center sits among trails and a "kids only" fishing pond.

Millstream Gardens

ABOVE: The trail in Pickle Springs surfaces above the trees at Dome Rock, providing a panoramic view of the Pickle Creek Valley. LEFT: The trail through the Little Grand Canyon in Illinois leads hikers down steep and slippery terrain, but steps have been carved out in some places, making the trek manageable. (JAMES BAUGHN ~ Southeast Missourian)

The St. Francis River forms the western boundary of Millstream Gardens and wanders through the 697-acre conservation area in Madison County to carve a deep canyon reminiscent of something you would find in the mountainous west. It rushes through Tiemann Shut-Ins before flowing into the Silver Mines area. The oak, hickory, ash, elm and maple trees throughout the land make Millstream Gardens one of the most colorful places in Southeast Missouri in autumn. Aside from trails, it has a boat ramp, picnic area, pavilion and archery range.

Johnson's Shut-Ins

The Upper Taum Sauk Reservoir has been repaired and the damage from the 2005 flood of Johnson's Shut-Ins has been reversed to bring a popular park back to perfect working order. The new entrance winds through a field with clear illustrations of the effects of 1.3 billion gallons of water rushing into an area. The restoration project included new roads, trails, picnic shelters, bathrooms and other facilities, but the rushing water and plunge pools that make the park popular in the Southeast Missouri summer heat remain intact.

Magnolia Hollow

Magnolia Hollow Conservation Area 10 miles north of Ste. Genevieve has much more than the large flowering magnolia. The forest has mixed hardwoods and cedar glades, while the hollow itself has a variety of trees, shrubs, herbs and wildflowers, including begonia orchids. The 1,740-acre area has a skeet range, archery range and is bordered by Establishment Creek and Schmidt's Island on the Mississippi River. The wildlife management practices in Magnolia Hollow have made it a haven for wildlife like deer and eagles.

Otter Slough

This conservation area in Stoddard County, southwest of Dexter, is one of the few remaining cypress/tupelo swamps left in Missouri. It's estimated that Stoddard County once had 320,000 acres of wetlands but now has slightly less than 7,000. Much of the 4,886 acres that make up Otter Slough is home to migratory and wintering waterfowl, wading birds, eagles and wetland mammals. The area has a concrete boat ramp, camping, picnic areas, three fishing jetties, a fishing dock and two lakes.

Pickle Springs Natural Area

Pickle Springs in Ste. Genevieve County is a walk and stop area with a roughly 2-mile trail dotted with rock formations and falling water. With formations like The Slot, Keyhole and Terrapin Rock, the trail will take a few roles of film if you allow it. The path traverses slight hills, but is friendly to children and the less-coordinated. The 256-acre area located about seven miles northeast of Farmington also has interesting plant life like the white smooth violet, shining nut-rush and hay-scented fern.

The Little Grand Canyon

Millstream gardens during spring rainstorm.

If you'd like to venture out of Missouri, the Little Grand Canyon near Murphysboro, Ill., provides a challenging hike for those with sturdy shoes and strong legs. Bluffs and the Big Muddy River surround the canyon. A 3-mile loop trail brings visitors into and out of the canyon. It descends through the woods toward the canyon and provides views from above before taking hikers deep within. Steps have been carved into the rocks for a slightly easier trek, but this canyon should be enjoyed cautiously.

Apple Creek Conservation Area

Apple Creek stream forms the northern border of this 2,082-acre conservation area in northeast Cape Girardeau County. It has steep hills and narrow valleys for the explorer in you as well as various wildlife for the voyeur in you. It has a boat ramp, camping during firearms and deer season, fishing ponds and firearms range with shotgun trap, skeet and patterning range, pistol and rifle ranges. The site also has a 5-mile multipurpose trail that can be used for hiking, biking or horse riding.

Blue Pond

Blue Pond appeared in Bollinger County when a sinkhole formed and filled with water from a spring at the bottom of the crater. Normally sinkholes drain water from the surface into a cave, but Blue Pond gets water from the spring beneath it and spills over into a creek. Blue Pond has an explored depth of 66 feet, making it the deepest natural pond in Missouri. Find wildlife like beavers and their newly downed trees or take an easy hike around the watering hole.

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