Rivers or Lakes
During the course of authoring this column, I have been asked several times about why I don’t cover the fishing and recreational value of our local lakes.
In my answer, let us refer to the often asked question: cats or dogs, do you prefer? My answer to that one is easy-both.
But as to rivers or lakes, the answer is much more complicated. I am basically a river person, not a lake person. To me rivers are more alive, while lakes have consumed a dead river.
However, I see the benefits of lakes for flood control and recreation. And if you want to know where the fish are, and what they are biting, I think you can get some good comprehensive information by contacting the Wades at Pontiac Marina, or the Cooks at Theodosia Marina.
Don’t contact me because I won’t know anything concerning proper baits, nor will I know which campgrounds are closed by the Corps of Engineers due to high water or budgetary concerns.
To me a river is a living, breathing, clear water marvel of nature. It’s course and meanderings change each year depending on the volume of our annual winter and spring rains.
These annual changes influence riparian wildlife also. Otters and beavers may move upstream or downstream seeking better habitat. The same goes for the various species of fish found in rivers.
I realize lake levels change with the seasons and are also dependent on annual rainfall. The species of fish available change with not only the level of the lake but also with the changing temperature of the lake water at various depths.
In the Ozarks, we are lucky to possess so many undammed clear water river courses. For length, and in first place, is the beautiful and fairly wild Gasconade River, which empties into the Missouri River after 253 miles. And, there is the scenic Meramec River which winds through the Ozark hills for almost 200 miles before emptying into the Mississippi River. Because of their vast drainage areas, both of these rivers flood almost every year to some degree and they definitely affect the downstream levels of the Missouri and the Mississippi.
Other free-flowing Ozark streams include the Current National River, 140 floatable miles in Missouri alone, down to the Arkansas State line at Currentview; and James River for over 60 miles to Table Rock Lake (although it’s flow is briefly dammed at Lake Springfield).
Before the days of Table Rock Dam, a week-long fishing float of 150 miles was available from Galena to Cotter, Arkansas, on the James and White Rivers. These trips were made in local handcrafted wooden Jon boats which were typically 4 feet wide and 18 to 24 feet long. They were a stable boat and good for maneuvering through many rocky shoals on the James and the White.
In fact, most folks are unaware that before it was dammed, and re-dammed by the Corps of Engineers, the White River, which begins in western Arkansas and winds into southern Missouri and then dips south to join the Mississippi in southeast Arkansas, flowed unimpeded for an almost 1,250 mile run. At one time it was one of the longest free-flowing mountain rivers in the United States.
Locally, in Arkansas you can enjoy the waterfall–laden Spring River for about 44 miles from Dam No. 3, a couple of miles below Mammoth Springs to Ravenden, Arkansas.
The Eleven Point National Scenic and Wild River has a 50 mile run just in Missouri, as it winds through the Irish Wilderness.
Beaver Creek in Douglas and Taney counties has 40 miles of available floating from Hwy. 76 west of Ava to Bull Shoals Lake at Kissee Mills. Summertime floats are limited due to lesser springs and lower float levels.
My home creek, Bryant, is floatable from the Vera Cruz Conservation Area to its juncture with the North Fork River, just above Tecumseh, for a total float of 44 miles.
The ever–popular North Fork of the White has a floatable length of 50 miles from Hwy. 76 west of Willow Springs to Tecumseh.
To me there is nothing like throwing a stick of wood into Hunter Creek and mentally daydreaming and following its float down Bryant, then the North Fork, then the White, and finally the Mississippi, before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana.
Note: National River System versus National Scenic and Wild Designation.
As for “National River” design-ation, THE National River is the free-flowing 150-mile-long Buffalo River, all contained within the “Natural State” of Arkansas.
Beginning in 1968, there was a vicious political fight between area businesses and landowners, and national preservationists such as Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, to save the beautiful free-flowing Buffalo River. Some local residents were in favor of the jobs promised by the newly proposed dam; but many other local people did not want to lose the precious valley and all the artifacts, cemeteries, local history, and other items contained therein.
Corps of Engineers had planned for a dam in the Pruitt area. After a national outcry, the proposal was defeated, and eventually in 1972, the scenic waterway was named the “Buffalo National River”, the only one of its kind in the United States.
A few years later in Missouri, the Current River and its beautiful tributary, the Jacks Fork River, were added to the National River system. They would be the last so named.
The designation of these steams as deserving of “National” status created long-lasting political scars between local landowners and preservationists. Area river stream landowners permanently lost their land to the federal government. These scars are still felt so deeply that Shannon County, in Missouri, and Newton County in Arkansas are considered favorable venues for defendants in criminal cases brought by the State, because of the still existing anti-government sentiment in these areas.
“National Rivers” must be desig-nated by Congress and the rivers and their stream-side lands are owned and administered by the National Park Service. Because of these political fights, I do not believe we will see any more designations in the foreseeable future. Although, I have heard there is a recent concerted effort to “nationalize” one of the upper sections of the Mississippi River in central Minnesota.
On the other hand, there are still “National Wild and Scenic” river designations being made. Recently the Kootenai River in northwest Montana gained the title, as well as the Niobrara River in northern Nebraska.
There are vast differences between “Wild and Scenic” and “National” river designations. For one thing’ “Wild and Scenic” designations can include just the wild and scenic section of the river, not the whole river. Another example is when the federal government gains only a narrow streamside easement with few restrictions and not outright ownership rights.
And finally “Wild and Scenic” rivers are administered by the National Forest Service through the Department of Agriculture. “National Rivers” are administered by the National Park Service through the Department of the Interior.
There are several Ozark streams which have been mentioned in Missouri for inclusion in the “scenic and wild” designation: i.e. the North Fork of the White, the Meramec, the Gasconade, and the Niangua.
However, since “Wild and Scenic” designations require both Congressional and State approval, it is likely that in the immediate future, Missouri’s only national “Wild and Scenic” river will remain the beautiful Eleven Point River, located in Oregon County.
I believe all of the above-named rivers have sections that could be properly designated under the “Scenic and Wild” Act. In my opinion, these rivers deserve the limited protection of the act to protect them future environmental protection and over- development.
I realize opinions on this subject vary and I may be in the minority on the issue, but many outdoorsmen and women believe that there are so few “wild” areas left for our grandchildren and future generations to enjoy.
Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozark outdoors!