By Francis Skalicky
MO Department of Conservation
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – June 6 is National Trails Day, an event that annually sends people searching for new trails to discover.
Often, they want a trail that’s smack-dab in the middle of the outdoors, but close enough to be easily reached from urban areas. It has to be a place that’s remote enough that hikers will be completely isolated from city bustle and highway noise, but close enough that you can visit and return home in a day. Also, because of the health concerns currently underway, it’d be nice if it were a trail that wasn’t over-crowded with visitors.
If this describes your hiking quest, keep in mind that many Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) public use areas that are known for their hunting opportunities have some sort of trail system too.
MDC’s 772-acre Little Sac Woods Conservation Area in northern Greene County is known for deer and turkey hunting, but the area also has a system of clearly marked trails. The same can be said for the 2,502-acre Busiek State Forest and Conservation Area in Christian County, the 3,172-acre Bois D’Arc Conservation Area in Greene County, the 4,360-acre Robert E. Talbot Conservation Area in Lawrence County and the 840-acre Compton Hollow Conservation Area in Webster County.
The American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day, the first Saturday in June, is an opportunity to begin a summer adventure of exploring trails at nearby MDC areas. You may think, with summer heat coming on, that autumn would be a better time to hike at MDC areas. Fall hiking is fun, but an advantage to hiking MDC areas now is that the human traffic at many of these locations is lighter. It’s the interim period between hunting seasons. Spring turkey season is over and fall hunting seasons haven’t begun. (Squirrel season opens May 23, but many squirrel hunters don’t hit the woods until leaves start to drop and nuts ripen in the fall.)
Things to keep in mind when hiking MDC Areas: The trails are not paved at many MDC areas. Some trails follow old service roads while others are foot paths that wind through forested locations or on the edges of open areas. Some trails are easy to walk while others may be a bit more overgrown than what is found on heavily used areas. High socks will provide leg protection on most trails. Bring insect repellant to keep ticks away and know what poison ivy looks like because you may find some near trails.
Don’t let these details scare you away, though. On trails at MDC areas that receive less human visitation, you have better chances of seeing various types of plant, insect and wildlife species. Imagine seeing butterflies on wildflowers of a variety of sizes and vibrant colors. Envision lizards sunning themselves on rocks, turtles basking on logs, does keeping a close watch on their spotted fawns, male songbirds in vibrant courtship colors perched alongside ankle-deep and shin-deep creeks that are perfect for wading into to see numerous crayfish and small fish scooting amongst the rocks. All these wildlife sightings have one thing in common – they can only be seen in summer.
While enjoying your time at an MDC area, remember to follow all current health recommendations. These include: Avoid crowded places. Stay at least six feet apart from others. Stay at home if you’re sick. Bring water, soap and hand sanitizer. Find more information at mdc.mo.gov or through MDC’s mobile app MO Outdoors.