A Natural Wonder

Ok, so we don’t have the Rockies.  Niagara Falls lives in another state.  And the oceans—we’ll I guess they’re on permanent vacation elsewhere.  But there still is a world-class, natural wonder right here in Missouri!  And it’s really amazing.

The viewing platform at the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area overlooks the Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Did you know the Mississippi-Missouri River system is considered the third largest in the world?  Unless you’re planning a trip to Africa to visit the Nile, or sojourn to South America to explore the Amazon, you won’t find a larger river system anywhere.  And it is the largest in North America.  The Confluence of these two great rivers is located just north of St. Louis.  So much for the geography lesson.

The Mississippi River is one of the busiest bird highways in the world.  Known as the Mississippi Flyway, it’s used as a travel corridor for 60 percent of all North American bird species on their north-south migration routes.  The number of blue herons, geese, pelicans, bald eagles, egrets and songbirds that traverse these waters from above is staggering.  I-70 might be a boulevard in Smallville, USA by comparison.  Okay, so we’ve covered biology.

There’s history here too.  The Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers marks the starting point of an adventure that defined our nation.  The Corps of Discovery, helmed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, set out from this very spot in 1804.

But these academics are only part of the story.  The Confluence area provides countless recreational opportunities.  For example, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Columbia Bottom Conservation Area offers visitors many ways to appreciate this outstanding resource.  At more than 4,000 acres, it’s managed to provide a mosaic of natural habitats that benefit plants and animals, as well as people who pursue them.  The area is a blend of wetlands, bottomland forests, prairies and croplands.  This diversity draws birds and birders from all over.  Columbia Bottom’s species list is currently at more than 200. An active bald eagle nest can be found there.

Hunters enjoy the pursuit of doves, deer and waterfowl during the appropriate seasons.  With boat access to the Missouri River, Columbia Bottom is a major fishing destination.  In fact, the state and world-record 130-pound blue catfish was pulled from the Missouri River near the area last July!

Want to burn some calories?  Columbia Bottom has a paved bicycle trail that winds around the site, presenting cyclists with an outstanding open vista.  A natural surface trail along the river gives wooded solitude to hikers.  And canoeists or kayakers can slip their craft into the Mississippi River from the area.

But one of the most amazing sights at Columbia Bottom is the platform overlooking the grand Confluence of North America’s two mightiest rivers.  This panorama is definitely a must-see when visiting the area.

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is open from a half hour before sunrise until a half hour after sunset. The office and visitor center have educational displays that help guests get acquainted with the site.  Naturalist-lead educational programs are frequently offered for the public and school or scout groups.  For more information, call 314-877-6014.

Next time you’re in or near St. Louis, visit Columbia Bottom.  And if you live in St. Louis already, what are you waiting for?  Take I-270 to the Riverview Drive exit in north St. Louis County, and go north about three miles.  It’s much easier to get to than the Nile or the Amazon.

This post courtesy of Dan Zarlenga, metro media specialist, with the Missouri Department of Conservation.