Thursday, June 18, 2009

Conservation areas are made to order for “staycations”

By Jim Low
Conservation Department

Missourians looking for ways to make outdoor adventures affordable this summer need look no farther than their back yards. With more than 900 conservation areas, lake and river accesses, natural areas, nature centers and shooting ranges around the state, the real challenge is narrowing the choices to a manageable number.

Many Missourians are opting to explore their own state this year in response to high fuel prices and economic uncertainty. Such “staycations” can be just as exciting (and more relaxing) than long-distance trips.

Conservation areas (CAs) scattered across Missouri’s 114 counties offer something for every outdoor preference. Birdwatchers, geocachers, hunters, anglers, campers, paddlers, backpackers, day hikers, bikers, horseback riders, dog trainers and nature photographers all will find something for them on CAs. The trick is finding the right place.

To help Missourians navigate this dizzying array of opportunities, the Conservation Department provides a searchable Conservation Atlas database at www.mdc.mo.gov/atlas. You can do a “Detailed Search” for conservation areas by available activities from horseback riding to canoeing or goggle-eye fishing.

A search for “boat-in camping along the Missouri River” turns up 17 alternatives, from Atchison County to St. Louis County. Searching for areas where you can bicycle reveals 49 options, from Bollinger County to Buchanan County.

To minimize travel time and expenses, you can narrow such searches to a particular region or county. For instance, the eight-county St. Louis Region has 33 CAs that accommodate canoeists and kayakers. Regional searches enable “staycationers” to put together two-week holiday itineraries that let them sleep in their own beds every night.

You also can choose to focus your search on available facilities and services, including visitor centers, picnic areas, pavilions, wildlife viewing blinds, boat rentals or primitive campsites. You might choose to spend your vacation visiting all 18 Conservation Department nature and visitor centers around the state.

Or you might want to focus your search on natural features, such as lakes, ponds, glades, forests, springs or streams. An imaginary itinerary might focus on “walk-in camping” on areas with “springs” in the “Ozark Region.” This search combination turns up five areas: Carter Creek CA in Carter County, Fourche Creek CA in Ripley County, Indian Trail CA in Dent County, and Rocky Creek and Sunklands CAs in Shannon County.

Replace “springs” with “designated natural areas,” and the Conservation Atlas directs you to Angeline or Rocky Creek CA in Shannon County, Little Black, Mudpuppy or Sand Pond CA in Ripley County or – once again – to Indian Trail or Sunklands CAs.

Change the search combination to “hiking,” “springs” and “designated trails” gets you 25 choices scattered throughout the St. Louis, Kansas City, Southwest, Ozark and Central Missouri regions.

Boaters and anglers can choose from hundreds of fishing accesses on major lakes and rivers, plus small community lakes. A search for fishing lakes and ponds in the 12-county Kansas City region finds 72 such areas.

You can even filter search results by handicap accessibility, designated trails or the availability of shooting ranges.

With the online Conservation Atlas, you can plan an exciting summer “staycation” tailor-made for your family’s interests and budget. You might even find yourself taking mini-staycations throughout the year.

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