Monday, April 6, 2009

Prairie Home Conservation Area

Here’s another Central Missouri area that’s great for a hike. Sue and I went there on Saturday, April 4, and it was our first time to hike there. Because the area is so large, and we hiked only a part of the trails, what I’m going to describe to you is based on a first, limited impression. So bear with me, and keep your eye out for further posts. This will have to be a “developing story.”

First, the blah-blah background. Prairie Home CA is in eastern Cooper County and on the western, slanted edge of Moniteau County. If you find the town of Prairie Home on a map, the CA is about four miles south of it. There’s a gravel road—Cedron Road—going east-west through the area between Highways W and D. (By the way, it’s pronounced SEE-drun, for the small community that used to be in the area. The historic Cedron Church, founded in 1841, is still there.)

The 1,461 acres of public lands are shaped like a C, or an O that’s almost closed, and an eight-mile-long hiking trail loops around it. This trail, called the Buckhorn Hiking Trail, is remarkable because it is a favorite of Boy Scouts. In fact, it was built by scouts, and at least one portion of it is maintained by California, Missouri’s celebrated Troop 120, which has been hiking the area, planting trees, maintaining the trails, picking up litter, practicing outdoorsmanship, and in other ways generally demonstrating good stewardship of the area for decades.
The Missouri Conservation Department has a good brochure for the area, but if you can get a copy of the modified trail map put out by Troop 120, it is good to have, too, for it indicates several points of interest along the trail, including the “Halfway Fork,” “Missouri Rock” (shaped like the state’s outline), and a stately bur oak tree that was growing when the United States was born. There’s even an informative note about the powerlines that cut through the landscape: “These carry electrical power from Lake of the Ozarks to Columbia.”

The Buckhorn Trail connects several primitive camping spots, parking areas, fishing lakes, and miscellaneous points of interest. It’s easy to see why this would make a wonderful all-day hike. . . . Or a shuttle hike, which is what we did, leaving one car at Point B, driving in a second car to Point A, then hiking from Point A to B.

You could start and end the trail at any number of places. We opted to begin hiking at Parking Lot 6, on the east side of the park, following the Buckhorn Trail north, then west in a wide arc along the park’s northern perimeter, finally veering south, to end at Parking Lot 2, near the west entrance of the area.

There are several ponds and lakes in the Conservation Area, and as we drove through the park to set up our shuttle, we noticed a number of anglers hiking into the woods with their rods and tackle boxes. I understand that the parking areas were purposefully set a small hike away from the fishing areas, in order to gently discourage people from indulging in trashy beer busts at the water’s edge. (Great idea, methinks.)

By now you can tell I have some insider information, and yes, I do: My uncle is one of the leaders of Troop 120, and he has a long association with the area. In fact, he had his own good reason for encouraging us to go out there and try it out this weekend: Troop 120 and several other BSA troops recently enjoyed a camporee there, and my uncle wanted us to hike one section of the trail in particular in order to remove several tags he and my cousin had placed on trees to test the scouts’ forestry identification skills. So we were hiking with a mission!
Of course, as you can see, we got sidetracked by the pretty wildflowers. We both brought cameras, and, well, this just happens to be the beginning of the best time to look for wildflowers in the state, in my humble opinion.

Though I have to say: the ticks are already out. I plucked at least six from my jeans over the course of the afternoon. Young but not tiny ones; fast-moving. Dang them, anyhow. It’s already time to start grabbing the DEET.

Wildflowers in bloom. Whites: Dogtooth violet, toothwort, spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, rue anemone. Mayapples just coming up and unfurling the foliage. Pinks and purples: Dead nettle, redbud, violet wood sorrel, Johnny-jump-up, blue and purple violets. Yellows: Pale corydalis. Browns: well, the trillium is coming up, but it’s not blooming quite yet. (At least, not at Prairie Home. That we saw.) (I’ll spare you the Neo-Latin.)

Amazing how just a few weeks can pass, and suddenly all these pretty flowers are pushing out of the soil, threading their way through the fallen leaves, lifting their shining faces to the sun.

The trail was very enjoyable. Well-planned, varied, good relief. The creek crossings were at pretty locations and were doable by picking your way across on wobbly rocks. If you have a hiking stick, or a Leki trekking pole, it will come in handy, unless you don’t mind your feet possibly getting a little wet. Here is one of the dry crossings, however:

As for the trail condition, we noticed a few problems: Horseback riders. We studied the maps and had a hard time figuring out which trails were designated for horses and hikers (“Multi-Use”) and which were only for hikers. At times, I think the trails coincide for short distances, then diverge. And if I couldn’t quite tell where one kind of trail begins and another ends, I’ll bet horseback riders have the same problem and end up on the hiking trails by accident. So parts of the trail had been chopped and clopped up by hooves, especially when it was kind of muddy earlier this week. In a few places, we had to walk alongside the trail to keep out of the mud.

But that’s a relatively minor complaint, and I trust that the folks at the MDC are “on top of the situation.” Right?

Here’s the kicker: Even though the area offers all kinds of “outdoor uses”—for riders, hikers, hunters, fishers, and disabled and able-bodied alike—and even though we knew others were in the park because we saw their cars and horse trailers . . . we didn’t bump into anyone during our entire hike. Pretty nice, huh?

Especially on a lovely Saturday in early April in Missouri.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the read.Am thinking about starting a blog myself, but haven't done it yet. Best of luck, Julianna.

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thank you, Anon! It's pretty darn easy to start a blog, but it is a good idea to start with some loose plan in mind--like, Are you going to have a theme, or general topic? And how often will you aim at posting?

Also, it is a very good idea to actually read your comments and reply to them in a timely fashion--something I have OBVIOUSLY been falling down on.

Sorry to be so long in replying.

Thank you,