Clarifying the Big Muddy for Missourians

Thursday, September 20, 2007 | 11:41 a.m. CDT; updated 7:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The restless Big Muddy will offer a rare view for enthusiasts and novices alike Sept. 29.

The public is invited to dip their paddles and get a firsthand look at projects along the Missouri River from those who oversee them. The Big Muddy Wildlife Float has been organized by the Missouri River Communities Network and will feature talks by representatives from six different government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

The Presenters

Experts from the following groups will give talks: The Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Missouri Department of Conservation U.S. Army Corps of Engineers U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service U.S. Geological Survey Friends of Big Muddy

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“This will be the first opportunity that average citizens will have to hear the story about the wildlife programs going on on these public lands directly from the people that are doing the work,” said Steve Johnson, executive director of the Missouri River Communities Network. “We want to highlight work that’s being done and give agencies a chance to explain to interested people what they’re doing and how well it’s working.”

Participants can bring their own canoes or kayaks, or rent one when they arrive.

The trip will start at Franklin Island near Boonville, and floaters will make their way about 16 miles downstream to Katfish Katy’s at Huntsdale.

One stop will be at Overton Bottoms to float through the chute built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2001.

“The goal there is to create shallow water habitat for fish and shore birds,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of a nursery for little fish.”

Johnson explained that the shallow water allows fish to avoid larger competitors in the main channel.

“A lot of large river fisheries fish are in decline,” said Tom Bell, manager of the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Side channels like the one at Overton Bottoms aim to provide a habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon but are also beneficial to other fish, Bell said.

The island created between the chute and the river also keeps coyotes and other predators from eating the eggs of birds that build their nests in the floodplain.

“People know that these organizations are spending millions of dollars, and this is an opportunity for them to show how the money is being spent,” said Brad Hargrave of the Missouri River Communities Network.

The amount of federally owned land along the Missouri River has been steadily increasing since the 1993 flood as landowners opt to sell land that was damaged or too risky to farm or develop. The government, in turn, has allowed much of it to return to wetland habitat.

Crossing the river on Interstate 70 west of Columbia, motorists can see land that was in agricultural production 15 years ago.

“A lot of people look at that and say, ‘That looks like a big bunch of weeds,’ and ‘Why don’t they clean that up and put it into corn and soybeans?’ That’s really a habitat for wildlife,” Johnson said.

The float will allow officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation, who manage this particular land, to explain their work in areas like this.

“The Missouri River is the most under-utilized natural resource in the state of Missouri,” Johnson said. “It’s a beautiful place to be ... plus it will be a lot of fun.”

The Float

  • Registration forms must be postmarked by Monday and can be found on the Missouri River Communities Network’s Web site.
  • Bring sunscreen, water and about $14 for meals.
  • If you have them, you can bring your own canoe or kayak, paddles, life jacket and binoculars.
  • Flotation devices will be provided, and canoes will be available for rent for $30 from Mighty Mo Canoe Rental.
  • Breakfast and lunch will be served up by Katfish Katy’s, and bag lunches will be packed by The Rocheport General Store.
  • Other activities will include a river cleanup competition and live music.
  • Registration is $30 per person.
  • A student scholarship fund has been created, which will cover half of registration fees for students.
  • Children 15 and younger will have the entirety of their registration fee refunded after the event.

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