By Donna Denson
Now that the weather's turning warmer (ok, it's actually 20 degrees one day and 60 the next), take a hike. I mean, literally, take a hike in Mingo National Wildlife Refuge located just north of Puxico off State Hwy 51.
The Mingo swamp was formed about 18,000 years ago when the Mississippi River shifted to the east, leaving a dense swamp to form in its abandoned channel. (Now you know why they call it SWAMP-east Missouri.) In 1945, the area was established as a National Wildlife Refuge, primarily to provide resting, nesting, and feeding habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds.
Today, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of 21,676 acres of mostly hardwood bottomland swamp. The refuge is the only large tract of bottomland forest left in the Missouri bootheel and contains seven natural areas & 99 archaeological sites. The Mingo Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center is located on the southeast corner of the refuge and the 6,190-acre State Duck Creek WMA joins the refuge on the north and east boundary
You can enjoy the beauty of the Mingo swamp without getting your feet wet, take the Boardwalk Nature Trail - a one-mile loop through the bottomland hardwood swamp. Along the boardwalk you'll find an observatory platform featuring a panoramic view of the park. A variety of birds can be sited. In fact, eagles are regularly spotted in the spring. The path is wheelchair accessible and a self-guided pamphlet of the trail is available at the Boardwalk parking lot.
Mingo's Visitor Center was recently remodeled and includes interesting exhibits that tell the story of the shifting Mississippi River and the ecology and wildlife of the hardwood bottomland forest. Two walking trails lead from the center:
- The 1/4-mile Bluff Trail, which begins at the Visitor Center and connects with the Boardwalk, furnishes an interesting view of the steep limestone bluffs bordering the swamp that once was the mighty Mississippi River.
- The Hartz Pond Trail begins in the Visitor Center parking lot and leads you to a small lake with picnic facilities and fishing opportunities. Hartz Pond is also used as an outdoor classroom for environmental education classes taught by refuge staff.
In addition, Mingo has over 50 miles of hiking opportunities on other refuge roads, dikes, and levees that are not open to vehicular traffic. These areas are open to foot traffic March through September. Contact the Visitor Center before venturing out for directions and special regulations that may apply.
Admission to the Refuge and Visitors Center is free so you have no excuse not to go. So, take a hike!
Mingo National Wildlife Refuge
2 miles north of Puxico, MO
off State Hwy 51