Category Archives: Outdoor/Nature

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Protecting our Pollinators Event at Powder Valley Nature Center, event Sept. 17

Photo: MDC

Nature’s pollinating insects have our backs every day.  Scientists estimate at one out of every three bites of food we eat is there thanks to pollinating insects and other animals.  Did you know approximately 35% of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce?  That also includes the peppers and tomatoes we grow in our own gardens, or the blackberries we might enjoy collecting in nature.  Without our pollinators, we would be starving.

Since pollinators do so much for us, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) invites you to help them out too.  MDC’s Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center is hosting the Protecting our Pollinators event, on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. It’s a special event to celebrate these silent, but essential heroes of the insect and animal world.  Some of Missouri’s most important pollinators include bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and moths.  The event is free and welcomes people of all ages and will include educational booths, presentations, and activities to help the whole family appreciate pollinators.

The presentations during the event will take place in the nature center’s auditorium and will include the following topics:

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St. Louis Suburbs Hit: Hard One-in-1,000 Year Rains Make A “Summer of Flash Floods”

Kirkwood residents watched in amazement on July 26 when storms turned Sugar Creek into a raging river.

by Don Corrigan

St. Louis and its suburbs have been bombarded by extreme precipitation events. That includes record-shattering rains that delivered a “Summer of Flash Floods” for 2022.

Thunderstorms in July delivered devastating flooding, including one on July 26 and another on July 28. The storms hit especially hard in Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Rock Hill, Brentwood and University City.

Area waterways such as the River Des Peres, Shady Creek, Deer Creek and Gravois Creek “flashed” out of their banks. The water receded in a matter of hours, but left mud, trees, home debris and thousands of dollars in damage.

The one-in-1,000 year rain events prompted national news coverage. Sean Hadley, spokesman for the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD), summed it up for the Washington Post: “It was just too much water.”

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The 10,000th Hellbender Released by Missouri Department of Conservation and Saint Louis Zoo

Hellbender released in the MO Ozarks. Photo: MDC

The Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are celebrating a historic milestone in hellbender conservation in Missouri. As of August 2022, the total Saint Louis Zoo-raised endangered Ozark and eastern hellbenders released into the wild since 2008 now numbers over 10,000 individuals.

“This is the largest number of animals the Saint Louis Zoo has ever raised in human care and released to the wild and is one of the largest amphibian reintroduction programs in the world,” said Justin Elden, Curator of Herpetology, Saint Louis Zoo, and Director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Ron and Karen Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation. “To date, this is the most successful hellbender release program in the country and it would not be possible without collaborative efforts between the Zoo, MDC and other partners over the last 15 years.”

“When we began the hellbender conservation program over 20 years ago the idea of returning this many hellbenders into native rivers was a dream goal and almost impossible to imagine at the time,” said Jeff Briggler, Ph.D., MDC State Herpetologist. “It has been a lot of hard work and dedication from many people and partner conservation organizations, and while we recognize the significance of this milestone, the work is far from over. We will continue to help protect this species from extinction.”

The 10,000th hellbender, which was one of 235 hellbenders released into a Missouri Ozark river on August 10, 2022, by MDC and Zoo team members, was a nearly 4-year-old Ozark hellbender. This hellbender was returned to the same river where it was collected as an egg in 2018 by MDC to be hatched and raised at the Zoo.

MDC and Zoo staff release Ozark hellbender. Photo: MDC

“This particular river means a lot to those of us involved in the conservation of this species, as it’s the same river where the first release occurred in 2008,” said Briggler. River locations are not identified for animal safety reasons.

By the end of summer 2022, 811 Ozark and eastern hellbenders raised from eggs at the Zoo will have been released into their native Missouri Ozark rivers by MDC this year, in cooperation with the Zoo and other federal partners.

Since 2008, 10,206 Saint Louis Zoo-raised endangered hellbenders (9,034 Ozark hellbenders and 1,172 eastern hellbenders), including first- and second-generation Zoo-bred animals, have been reintroduced to the wild in Missouri.

“Our Zoo animal care professionals are dedicated to caring for this endangered salamander and doing everything we can to help preserve this species,” said Elden.

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Cool As A Beatles’ Song: Kirkwood Sojourners Rally At Unique Artesian Spring

Karl Kruse, Don Corrigan, Ila Irl, Bill Spradley and Kyle Moylan celebrate the cold, clear waters of the Sycamore Valley Artesian Well in the Missouri Ozarks. All photos by Bill Ruppert.

by Don Corrigan

Just as four Beatles looked for “Norwegian Wood” in a cooler clime in 1965, some area residents looked for an artesian well recently in sizzling 2022 heat. Ozark wells offer cool, flowing water, even when its 100+ degrees.

“I love taking people to see the artesian well at Sycamore Valley,” said Bill Spradley, a Kirkwood  businessman who owns a farm near the well in the Ozark country. “The water is cold, pure, refreshing and it flows constantly.

“It gets a lot of visitors from the locals, but also from all over the country,” added Spradley. “It even gets travel reviews on Google.”

Indeed, the artesian well east of Fredericktown and south of Highway 72 has a gaggle of Google reviews. One advises visitors to take “all kinds of jugs” because the waters are “just a thing you’ll have to experience.”

Spradley, who works during the week in Kirkwood at his Trees, Forests and Landscapes, Inc., will retreat to his Ozark hideaway on weekends. At an intersection of roads just south of his homestead is an amazing water flow that never, ever goes quiet.

It started in the late 1940s, when a shaft was sunk more than 1,200 feet below ground. However, it was not black gold that erupted from the depths. It was clear, cold water under natural pressure and gushing at 50 gallons per minute.

An artesian well releases spring water and requires no pumps. The most famous artesian wells are located in Artois, France. Artois was known as the “Roman City of Wells” in the Middle Ages.

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Bean Queen Gavels Plant Group To Order Every Wednesday

Photo: Castor Bean Plant

By Don Corrigan

Lulu Dunsford, the “Bean Queen” of Webster Groves Castor Bean Society, (WGCBS), gavels her unruly plant group to order every Wednesday morning at The Annex on 8122 Big Bend Blvd.

“I try to gavel them to order, but I don’t get much respect,” admitted Dunsford. “Castor beaners are rowdy. They don’t take me seriously and they are a little wound up right now.”

WGCBS members are wound up because they’re in the heat of competition for growing the tallest castor bean plant. The stakes are high, the plants are tall – and the winner takes all. The owner of the tallest plant wins bigly.

“Tom Bush of Glendale is my ‘Chart Meister,’ and records the height of contest plants on a weekly basis,” explained Dunsford. “Members call in their heights to him and he records them.

“I don’t trust their reports,” added Dunsford. “I ride my bike all over Webster-Kirkwood with a tape measure and stop at their homes to check their castor bean plants. I do my own measurements. It’s called ‘keeping them honest.’”

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Discover Nature Schools Nature Unhooked Teacher Training Workshop Aug. 20

Photo: MDC

Teachers will learn about this free program that provides grant funding for middle school science units.

The Missouri Department of Conservation invites teachers to attend a Discover Nature Schools (DNS) teacher training workshop for Nature Unhooked, the DNS aquatic instructional unit designed for grades 6-8.  This program provides grant funding for middle school life science units to help cover equipment costs and field trips.

The workshop will be held Saturday, Aug. 20 from 8:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. at Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center in Kirkwood.  The workshop is free of charge for educators.  Registration is required. (see link and more information at end of this post.) The nature center is located at 11715 Cragwold Road, near the intersection of I-270 and I-44.

“The Discover Nature Schools program is an excellent way to connect students of all ages with the benefits of outdoor learning and provides a place-based, experiential, approach to science education focusing on Missouri plants, animals and natural systems,” said MDC Conservation Educator David Bruns.

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Crayfish Critters: Memories Past, Present-Day Concerns

All photos courtesy The Missouri Department of Conservation.

By Don Corrigan

Crayfish, the “poor man’s lobsters,” were once in abundance in streams of Webster-Kirkwood in suburban St. Louis. Watersheds at Gravois Creek, Sugar Creek, Deer Creek and Shady Creek hosted many of the six-legged fellows.

When freed slaves settled areas near the creeks in North Webster Groves after the Civil War, the streams provided drinking water, recreation and food sources for the liberated residents.

A crayfish boil with melted butter could offer a kingly meal. Vegetable gardens in family plots provided plenty of side dishes to go along with the “crawdaddies” harvested by young boys.

Crayfish boils – and local streams full of the tiny “lobsters,” – seem to be a thing of the past. Experts with the Webster Groves Nature Study Society and Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) have an explanation for the disappearance.

“Crayfish suffer in suburban areas because of the runoff from herbicides and the pesticides used on lawns,” said Rich Thoma of the local nature society. “Some species are very sensitive to degradations in their habitat.

“When the crayfish suffer, sometimes other species of dragonflies and frogs take a hit also,” explained Thoma. “That’s because the crayfish burrow into the mud to make their homes, and other creatures then use the burrows for their homes.”

When crayfish disappear, the burrow homes for the dragonflies and frogs disappear. It’s a classic case of ecological breakdown.

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Trail Blazers – A Book About the Making of the Katy Trail and the Free-Spirited, Extraordinary Lives of Ted and Pat Jones

Courtesy of Magnificent Missouri

by Don Corrigan
Trail Blazers: The Free-Spirited and Extraordinary Lives of Ted and Pat Jones tells the story of the philanthropy and business savvy of an incredible couple. They also left an incredible natural legacy for Missourians.

I recommend reading this book from finish to start. That’s because once you realize the extent of what they have given us in Missouri (which is cataloged at the end of the book), then you will be more motivated to read how it all happened earlier in the book.

So, what did Ted and Pat Jones give us:

• A 240-mile long Katy Trail that attracts 400,000 hikers and cyclists annually. The beauty of this trail – whether in wine country, or the forests near Boonville, or the river cliffs of Rocheport – is simply astounding.

• Prairie Fork, the fabulous Jones Farm north of the Missouri River. The acreage has prairie, wetlands, slightly forested woodlands edged with beautiful wildflowers. Three different ecosystems can be enjoyed.

• The Ted and Pat Jones Confluence Point State Park, where visitors can witness where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet, and where westward expansion in the United States began.

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Mid-Missouri Weekend Travel Brings Pleasant Surprises

By Don Corrigan

Traveling Mid-Missouri, even for a day, can bring a lot of pleasant surprises. My day (Saturday, June 4) started at Fox Hollow, just west of Ashland. It went from there to festivities at Cooper’s Landing, then to the Rocheport trailhead for a bike ride on the Katy to McBaine and back.

Fox Hollow –  was the site of the Rural Land Stewardship Field Day. In addition to viewing on-site land preservation projects, visitors enjoyed exhibits, professional advice and takeaway information at five staffed, clustered resource stations on forest issues, wildlife preservation and organic food.

In addition to viewing on-site, in-progress land stewardship projects, I experienced nature exhibits; took in some professional nature advice; and gathered takeaway information at five staffed, clustered resource stations.

 

I most enjoyed the wildlife at Fox Hollow and the animals’ ability to get along when human beings seem to be having a hard time with peaceful co-existence in these times. I also enjoyed a long conversation with state Rep. Bruce Sassman and his efforts on behalf of the proposed Rock Island Trail and in advocating for his Legends of Conservation. The legends exhibit honors American leaders in the conservation movement.

Finally, I loved seeing the dozens of goats at Fox Hollow. They were busy eating massive quantities of invasive species. Also, it was interesting to learn all about them from the good folks with GOATS ON THE GO.

 

Cooper’s Landing – Next stop was Cooper’s Landing sandwiched between the Missouri River and the Katy Trail. Several hundred people were enjoying the BBQ, the drinks and the music of some kind of new wave Ozark music.

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Don Corrigan Talks American Roadkill on KMOX

In this April 26 interview on KMOX Radio, American Roadkill author Don Corrigan points out that his writing is in the great animal rights tradition of Joseph Grinnell of the 1920s, who was alarmed at the animal carnage on America’s new highways. Grinnell was a zoologist in California who wrote roadkill diaries.
 
Also in the tradition in which Corrigan writes is James R. Simmons. He published Feathers and Fur on the Turnpike in 1938. Simmons recorded roadkill destruction on New York highways. One of his tallies on Route 85, included: 13 woodchucks, 9 skunks, 2 raccoons, 11 squirrels, 4 chipmunks, 6 snakes, 3 turtles, 5 frogs and a single toad during one month.
 
Simmons declared: “Collectively we seem to think nothing of annihilating distance, time, wildlife and  occasionally ourselves as we step on the gas.”