By Annette Jenkins
Imagine floating down Jack’s Fork River. The cool water laps at your feet as you hang them out of your canoe, the warm sun overhead. Your cooler overflows with ice and cans of cold Mountain Dew. As you dig through the empty cans to find a full one, the breeze catches one and it’s tossed into the river, quickly filling with water and sinking. You can’t retrieve it. “It’s just one pop can.” But it can do more damage than you think.
Rebecca Landewe of The Nature Conservancy describes links between small things we don’t realize actually have a huge impact on the integrity and health of this river. Human litter and waste create bigger problems down the line than we can imagine.
More than one million visitors come to Jack’s Fork to float every summer. If one can is dropped for every five people, imagine the amount of trash swallowed-but not digested-by this pristine area.
Even something as small as using the woods as an outhouse during a long float trip can affect the health of the river, Landawe said. She described how human defecation adds nutrients to the water. “Algae feed on those nutrients, then suck oxygen out of the water. Other fish and wildlife need that oxygen,” Landawe said.
Landewe is working with the Department of Parks and Recreation to help educate the public on the treatment of the water in the popular floating season. She wishes people were more responsible when it came to keeping it a place everyone will want to visit, Landawe said.
by Annette Jenkins
Baling twine has many uses other than holding hay bales together. Trust me, I know. Young Kenadee Barnitz uses it as a belt to hold up her jeans and tie temporary gates closed, something this farm girl is all too familiar with. She’s the same age as my little sister. I am overwhelmed with the feeling of belonging.
A massive red barn similar to my family’s stands in the middle of the lot. Black grease spots the floor, signs of farm machinery being repaired throughout the years. No doubt the five generations of hardworking men who have walked through this barn since 1868 have gotten their hands dirty with who-knows-what.
Walking across the lot, I feel at home. The dust and stench of manure and pigs waft to my face and my father’s warm smile and baritone voice comes to mind. “Ahh. Smells like money.”
I see the same equipment, animals, collected deer antlers, feed sacks, and dirty pallets. A Kawasaki Mule like the one we drive at home is crammed with nine five-gallon buckets overflowing with grain and corn. 14-year-old Kenadee will have to help her father and grandpa unload them to feed her baby hogs, then bottle-feed the newborn calf in the barn whose mother had died at birth.
She’ll use her baling twine to tie the empty buckets to the fence when she is finished with the chores, then head inside to work on biology homework for school the next day. After school, she’ll go to basketball practice and come home to repeat her same chores. The life of a “farm kid” is about the same every day. You grow to miss it as you get older. What I wouldn’t give to go home this second and help my father with the duties I abandoned when I left for college.
Kenadee will look after this farm when her father Frank leaves it to her, just as his father George left it to him. The three of them work together on the daily grind to run the farm to the best of their ability. My mind flashes to my own sister, also going to school and doing my chores. I respect and envy this young girl so much. I am humbled, and I call my sister-in the middle of her homework-to thank her for her hard work.
A penny looks out at the scenery from a gap in the rock at Big Spring.
by Annette Jenkins
Today at Ozark National Scenic Riverways I was fortunate enough to see the largest spring in the world, the appropriately-named “Big Spring.” I’ve seen springs before, but today I was astounded by the colors that overtook me.
Huge grey boulders in the river were thickly crusted with lime green moss. The water flowed cerulean, the one crayon in the ice cream bucket the kids and I at daycare would always fight over.
A clear blue sky stood next to baby-green grass. Brown and tan rock cliffs hung over the mouth of the spring, jagged and sharp. A tourist had stuck a shiny penny face-up in a crack of the rock wall so Honest Abe was staring right at you. A small cave just deep enough for two or three grown men to crouch in sat at the bottom of the cliff. The normally dull, ragged, algae-covered rocks beneath our feet were worn shiny-slick from tons of visitor traffic. They were grey and white in color instead of dirty and black.
Color overthrew me today. I got sentimental, turned into a complete girl, and wanted to weep. I stood silent to let it all rush in, like the sound of the water hitting the boulders as it flowed out of the spring. I closed my eyes and appreciated it. What a beautiful world we live in.
by Annette Jenkins
With more than one million visitors in 2011, it can be difficult to get visitors to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways to all to comply. Understaffed, the rangers of the national park aren’t able to man 875,000 acres.
Visitors bring horses and ride the trails, creating a set of problems including destroyed vegetation, erosion of the trails along waterways, and horse waste.
“What do you expect? We have 361 miles of unauthorized trails throughout the park and people do what they want. That includes ‘social treks’ which is going where they want to when they want to,” Faye Walmsley, chief of interpretation at the National Park Service, said.
In the summer months, young adults float every weekend, and they bring beer. They contribute to the litter issue park management must deal with in working to keep the park clean. Park Ranger Pat Jackson describes snorkeling on his days off, and witnessing litter firsthand.
“I’ll dive under in some areas of deeper water and there are literally just thousands, and I do mean thousands of cans. It’s incredible.”
Walmsley said she faces difficulties in passing critical information to the public about safety and rules, but she and her team on working to protect the park for the nature, the visitors and future generations.
Edited by Caroline Murray
More than 73,600 acres covered in green pine and oak trees, Peck Ranch Conservation Area is a sight for sore city eyes. The plot also includes glades, wetlands and some cropland. Traveling up the narrow, winding gravel road to the top of scenic Stegall Mountain, one takes note of the charred branches of trees where a controlled fire was set to allow new vegetation to grow. Although the trunks and limbs are black and caked with soot, bright green forage and wildflowers thrive to be over three feet high.
Thanks to the Missouri Department of Conservation, one of the most fascinating facts about Peck Ranch is it just became home to just over 100 adult elk. That number is growing, as the cows that were reintroduced to this area have started to calve. One way of keeping these elk from overpopulating and roaming too far from their desired home at Peck Ranch is introducing a public elk hunting season. Barbara Keller, an MU biologist studying elk since their reintroduction in 2011, is confident in the success of a hunting season in five to ten years.
Keller also mentioned how much the surrounding community has benefitted from the reintroduction of the elk. “Peck Ranch is already a popular turkey and deer hunting ground,” Keller said. “Right now we’re in bow season, but we get way more traffic with rifle season.”
“There is a huge boost in the economy. We get people from all over coming to take the elk tour,” Keller said. “I love it. I’m excited for the sight, their behavior, the bugling, and it’s something different.”
Edited by Alicia Stice