After getting a new fishing license for the first time in a couple of years, this morning seemed like a good time to, uh, test the water.
I grabbed a rod and reel, a tackle box, my camera, a water bottle, a boiled egg, an apple, and, just in case I felt really lucky, my fly rod and some flies. It’s a good thing I took the egg and apple because not a single strike was to be had on the ponds at Emmett and Leah Seat Memorial Conservation Area. All I caught was morning solitude, the smell of blackened earth left from the Missouri Department of Conservation’s controlled burns this spring, and the sound of birds.
In fact except for a half dozen swallows sweeping insects above a pond and two turkey vultures having a road kill squirrel for brunch there were few bites of any kind. I did, however, lose two lures. But I’m happy to say I lost them to submerged logs and not to a tree limb like the one pictured above.
The first Saturday in November, temperatures near 70 degrees and a wearisome presidential election nearing its end meant it was time to enjoy autumn before the weather and Election Day turned worse. With that in mind we stopped at the courthouse, cast our ballots early and headed out of town to Crowder State Park about 50 miles east of here.
Even with the constant crunch of leaves underfoot there was still plenty of fall colors. With more than 15 miles of hiking trails to choose from, we parked at Crowder Lake, walked across the dam and headed off on Tall Oaks Trail. The three-mile trail takes hikers along the lake through the old woods up a ridge through an old field and back down to the trailhead along river bottoms.
We had hiked another trail, River Forks, a few years earlier. Our plan — as soon as we get a few days free — is to set up the tent at the campsite and explore the eight-and-a-half mile Thompson River Trail, get in some fishing and relax in between. The 1,912-acre park includes basic, family and electric camping, an equestrian trail, canoe rentals, Red Bud Trail for those wishing a shorter hike and a quiet setting near Trenton, Mo.
A bit of cooler August weather had us revisiting Emmett and Leah Seat Memorial Conservation Area today. Pollinators, mainly butterflies, were as busy as, well, bees on the wildflowers. They were common along our walk along a wooded access road but we discovered hundreds of them flittering around a south facing mudbank when we crossed a small stream.
One small butterfly even hitched a ride on my leg for several yards before getting its fill of sweat. After our little hike, we drove a few miles west to Denver, Mo., to visit Sowards Ford Access, a primitive camping area on the East Fork of the Grand River. Denver itself is worth a trip if you enjoy visiting old small towns. The name F.C. Grace remains prominent in Denver even though his sale of furniture there have long been gone but the old Denver Schoolhouse has undergone a restoration.
We picked up a few things along the Grand River at Sowards Ford. Part of an old Coca Cola bottle and a few more modern pieces of trash that had either been left there or had washed down the river. While we did a small part in cleaning up the river, we also brought a few other things home we wish we hadn’t. Seed ticks, dozens of them, discovered during our hike at Seat so here’s a tip for anyone planning a summer hike in Missouri: Don’t forget the DEET as we did.
Always remember to double check your camera battery before you begin a hike. About halfway through our day hike on Deer Creek Loop at Wallace State Park my battery died while trying to get photos of some jack-in-the-pulpit. Fortunately, I had a spare battery but it was back at our campsite. That meant I missed out on other photos along the trail.
It wasn’t a great loss, though. Wallace State Park has five different trails for more than six miles to hike. Of course if you’re camping, like we were, you can add another quarter mile or more to each hike when you walk to the trailhead. And spring is a pleasant time to hit one of the trails. The mornings are still cool, the wildflowers are out, gooseberries and blackberries are beginning to ripen, and songbirds are plentiful to make a hike that much more enjoyable.
You should probably keep in mind snakes, ticks, and poison ivy are also easily found. We came a cross a copperhead and fortunately our dog didn’t stop to investigate. We also found a garter snake, more ticks than we cared for, and a healthy poison ivy population. Other pests such as mosquitoes and flies were few, though.
Wallace State Park is near Cameron, Mo., and about 60 miles north of Kansas City just off of Intestate 35. The park includes a small lake, a pavilion, and four drive-in camping area as well as four walk-in campsites. Wallace is one of our go-to camping areas, a site we have returned to with our two daughters for nearly the last ten years.
Less than a mile north of town three turkeys crossed the highway ahead of us. With snow melting on a free Sunday afternoon, getting outside seemed like a good idea and the turkey running down into the ditch seemed like a good sign we had made the right decision.
Emmett and Leah Seat Memorial Conservation Area is a good place to explore, especially on a warm winter day with snow melting all around. The youngest had hoped to find a new hill to sled down but I warned her we weren’t likely to find such a spot. Sledding was short but creating a mermaid out of snow on a frozen lake was worthwhile.
We found several spots where ice fishermen had recently been, as well as a well used deer crossing on the lake. We also visited the archery range and Walker Cemetery while there. Seat Memorial Conservation Area covers more than 3,400 acres with more than a dozen ponds and is managed for bobwhite quail. It’s also home to trophy sized whitetails, a healthy wild turkey population, and plenty of rabbits and doves. And the fishing’s not bad either, winter, spring, summer or fall.
“The concept of conservation is a far truer sign of civilization than that spoilation of a continent which we once confused with progress.” — Peter Matthiessen
Peter Matthiessen’s “Wildlife in America” should be required reading for anyone who appreciates wildlife. Matthiessen writes not just about the wildlife North America has lost but also about the greed and reckless destruction of animals and their habitat.
While “Wildlife in America” talks about the extinction (or perhaps more accurately extermination) of some species there are also stories of success in the works of early conservation organizations.
Most hunters and anglers today show greater concern when it comes to wildlife preservation. In this part of the country there have been no greater success stories than that of the whitetail and wild turkey.
While hunting regulations have played a large role in the rebound of deer and turkey populations since the early 1900s in Missouri, habitat continues to be a concern, especially with upland game such as the northern bobwhite and ring-necked pheasant. Many of us can remember when it wasn’t uncommon to find a half dozen coveys of quail when hunting in this part of the state but that is no longer so.
Hunters, anglers and anyone who enjoys wildlife should read Matthiessen’s book. The losses written about in “Wildlife in America” concerning the slaughter and disregard for wildlife and its habitat are mirrored in many levels today in what corporations and individuals hail as progress.
In 2006, Dad and a couple of his friends took my brother, my son, one of my childhood friends and me on a fishing trip to Canada. Upon our arrival in Canada, we were asked to leave so we returned to the U.S. to fish instead on Pelican Lake in Minnesota. Although the trip didn’t go as planned we got a good story and plenty of laughs from it as well as fish for supper every night.