Private conservation group buys tract along Current River

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The largest stretch of private riverfront property remaining in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways was purchased recently by the Nature Conservancy of Missouri.

The 175-acre tract of land located below Aker's Ferry and east of Route K included 1.5 miles of property along the west side of the Current River.

A private individual has leased a residential facility on the property for one year while the property's future is considered, said Doug Ladd, director of conservation science for Missouri's Nature Conservancy. The remainder of the property will be passively managed as natural forest for that time.

"The Nature Conservancy's mission is to conserve representative examples of diversity of life on earth," Ladd explained. "The Current River watershed and water features are the most significant biological resource in Missouri and probably middle America."

The Conservancy may resell the property to a private individual, with conservation restrictions in place, or consider donating it to a public organization such as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, according to Ladd.

"It is possible for the Riverways to receive part of the property," Ladd said. "We have a history of working with public and private entities in that regard. But the only discussion we've had at this point is that we would like to talk with them."

The Conservancy has purchased about 100,000 acres of property in the Current River watershed since the organization was founded 50 years ago, Ladd said.

Riverways Superintendent Reed Detring praised the Conservancy for its land management.

"The Nature Conservancy has been an extremely effective leader in several efforts to ensure that the irreplaceable natural features and cultural heritage of the Current River watershed are passed on unimpaired to future generations," Detring said. "Their nimble organization is often the best at moving quickly to capitalize on critically important but fleeting conservation opportunities."

A little over a year ago, the Conservancy purchased property on the Current River south of the Riverways. That property was given to the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the majority of property in that area, Ladd said.

"Typically we try to put a conservation restriction on [property] and then transfer it to an agency that meets the Conservancy goals," he said, adding later, "We want to make sure the intact forests which are important to watersheds stay intact."

The Conservancy works to create areas where forest can be privately held and be productive, while under conservation easements that ensure sustainable use.

"We feel strongly good forest management is good watershed management and those are good for the local economy and tourism," Ladd said.

The majority of property purchased in the Current River watershed has been resold to private individuals or given to public entities, he said.

"There are a few globally irreplaceable habitats that require more intense management, but that is the minority of the landscape," Ladd stated.

The Conservancy has also created nature preserves which are undeveloped, but open to the public, where more intense management is deemed necessary, he said.

It maintains ownership of 5,000 acres of land along the Current River north of Van Buren, Mo., for the Chilton Creek Preserve. Containing more than 700 species of flowering plants, this is the organization's largest preserve in Missouri, Ladd said.

The Conservancy also has 550 acres of property at Shut-in Mountain Fens near Rocky Falls, where there are unique wetland habitats and glades. A rare carnivorous plant called the Small Bladderwort was discovered there last year.

More than one million members help support the Conservancy's work, according to its website. The organization is active in all 50 states and 30-plus countries, having protected approximately 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide.

Its Missouri Campaign for Conservation has raised more than $23 million, including $100,000 from Bass Pro Shops, the organization reports.

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