A Deep Appreciation of Missouri’s Ozark Mountains

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As I drove north on Highway 63 from Rolla towards Jefferson City on Friday evening, I wondered how many of the folks headed south pulling campers or hauling canoes on the top of their vehicle realized the rivers of Ozarks were blown out beyond recognition. Then I wondered how many would care. Because even if the rivers are raging, just being in the mountains, watching mist rise in the mornings and staring at sunsets over huge expanses of forest canopy is enough to rejuvenate any busy soul.

IMGP4501, Float camp on Current, small

Missouri’s Ozark Mountains offer an unbelievable amount of outdoor recreation. There’s hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife watching and so much more. It can be hard for the urban Missourian to fathom just how much public open space we have at our disposal in the Ozarks. To put a number to it, it’s well over two million acres.

The reason for my most recent trip down to the mountains was to attend a meeting of the Conservation Commission. You might not realize this, but these meetings are open to the public. You can attend just like I do. By attending these meetings you’ll learn the inner workings of how forest, fish and wildlife are managed in our state. At the July meeting, there were reports from Missouri Department of Conservation staff on fishing regulations for smallmouth bass and rock bass (goggle-eye), our elk program and forestry. All of these topics are especially concerning to the Ozarks

The meeting was held at The Landing in Van Buren. This resort is one of the finest in the Ozarks. Most of my nights in Missouri’s mountains have been spent in a tent, but I must admit to enjoying the nice accommodations of this resort nestled right on the banks of the Current River. I had a great dinner in the dining room and the scenic view from the outside deck is perfect for a nightcap. Under better conditions a crystal clear Current River would have been lit by an uncountable number of stars, but as it was, I watched trees and large branches race down river at a rapid pace.

Listening to MDC staff report to the Commission about the different programs and projects taking place in the Ozarks was inspiring. The treasures of this region should draw people from all across the country, much in like the way Yellowstone or Smokies draw tourists. The Ozarks offer the outdoorsman all he could possibly desire, and are within a day’s drive of most Americans.

Fisheries biologist Craig Fuller gave a great presentation on smallmouth bass and rock bass. Ongoing studies are proving that Missouri Ozark stream fishing is truly world-renowned. Maybe some of us didn’t need a study to know that, but what Craig’s work is telling us is how to manage the fishery for an even better future

We are learning that smallmouth bass and rock bass in our southern rivers have a fairly tough go of it. It turns out that we actually need to harvest a few, batter them and drop them in oil to make sure there is room for others to grow. You won’t have to tell me twice to keep a couple fish for the frying pan. Few things in life make me happier than freshly fried fish accompanied by hushpuppies and coleslaw

The elk are making progress, too. The local communities are proud to have these majestic creatures once again roaming the hills. Not only does it make sense biologically, but elk are also a big tourism big draw to the small towns of the Ozarks. Above all else though, economically, our Missouri forests continue to produce some of the finest hardwood in America

As Missourians, we have so much to be proud of, from our Cardinals to our Royals, our Rams to our Chiefs, and of curse, our Tigers. We have our urban areas in St. Louis and Kansas City and our culture hub in Columbia. We have a vibrant Capital in Jefferson City. But nothing rivals the beauty of our Missouri Ozarks.

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler


Next time you’re camping, try fish gigging. Even senators love it.


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