Government buys Cora Island for $5 million

Sunday, June 21, 2009 | 5:30 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS— The federal government has bought a Mississippi River island in St. Charles County and plans to turn the former farm into public park space. 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday that federal land managers and a collection of conservation groups plan to announce the acquisition of Cora Island on Tuesday. The 1,470-acre island sits near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Plans call for restoring a lost wetland to help with flood control and for allowing public access to the island, which had been in private hands. Bird-watchers have long wanted to visit the area, known for its pelicans, herons and egrets.

"The acquisition of public land in this area is absolutely critical," said Ralph Rollins of the Greenway Network, one of the project partners. "And if it can be converted from farmland back to original habitat, it's really going to enhance the entire confluence area."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Kansas City District bought Cora Island for an estimated $5 million earlier this year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will manage the property under an agreement worked out by the Trust for Public Land and the St. Louis-based Confluence Partnership.

Besides birdwatching, the plan calls for fishing and hiking areas on the island.

"It's been a long and complicated road, but it's been worth it," said Cynthia Whiteford, senior vice president for the Trust for Public Land. "People who live in the St. Louis area will be able to enjoy this special place for years to come."

Cora Island has attracted the interest of conservation groups for years because it would link several other public lands in the area, including Pelican Island, Confluence State Park, the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area and Chouteau Island.

The Beckman family owned the island for several generations, using it to grow corn and soybeans. During dry weather, a farm road connected the island to the riverbank.

Negotiations to buy the island took years, largely because the family held the island under a corporation, which caused tax problems in the event of a sale.

"They wanted to preserve the land in open space and saw this as an opportunity for that to happen," said Mike Zender, an attorney with the Trust for Public Land. "It's very clear they managed the land well for a number of years."

The corps bought Cora Island through its Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Project, which is managed out of the Kansas City district.

District spokesman David Kolarik said the purchase fits in the district's goal to regain some of fish and wildlife habitat lost along the Missouri River after the turn of the century. The losses came as workers closed off sloughs and built dikes to narrow the channel.

The deal will be described in detail during a public meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in north St. Louis County.


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Dion Wisniewski June 21, 2009 | 11:44 p.m.

Wonderful. We're running a huge deficit and the government is throwing away $5 million to buy an island?! $5 million isn't much in the grand scheme of things but as a university student I think it could have been routed to much different things...

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