Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Columbia Bottoms Becomes State Property

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Columbia Bottoms Becomes State Property

Article excerpt

Staff St. Louisans will have a new place to catch fall colors, or go eagle-watching this winter.

The Missouri Department of Conservation closed its deal Tuesday to purchase the 4,300-acre Columbia Bottoms area from the city of St. Louis for $9.3 million.

On Wednesday, some 25 department agents toured the area to brainstorm on how best to use it. Within the next 30 days or so, the public will get its chance to visit and offer suggestions. "We're going to open it to limited access - biking, hiking and fishing," said Mike Schroer, a department supervisor. "But the future possibilities really are endless." The bottoms is in St. Louis County at the northern tip of the city limits - about 14 miles by car from the Gateway Arch and 2.5 miles north of Interstate 270 on Columbia Bottoms Road. The reason the department had tried for more than a decade to purchase the bottoms is twofold: It's the largest undeveloped tract of green space left in the metropolitan area, and the only place in Missouri to view the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. "This place has national significance because of the confluence," said Schroer. "If we get a paved road all the way to the rivers, I'd bet, conservatively, we'd get a million visitors here. It may overwhelm us." For now, the public will be invited to park on a 50-space lot that will be built at the entrance gate to the site. Visitors can hike or bike three miles to the rivers on a dirt road that cuts through farm fields to an earthen levee. The rivers are a short walk further along a freshly cut trail. About 3,200 of the 4,300 acres now is farmland, protected from the rivers - with limited success - by the 6-mile-long levee. An additional 800 acres is bottomland forest outside the levee. Schroer led a visit to the area Thursday, accompanied by the wildlife biologist who will manage it, Tom Leifield, and his assistant, Mike Jones. Leifield grew up in Ferguson (Rosary High, Class of '75). "This was a big farm when I was a kid," said Leifield. "It was my old high school stomping grounds. Never thought I'd be working here." The three explained that the department's priorities are to get a paved road to the confluence and build a viewing area - perhaps a piered deck or a moored barge that would not be damaged by flooding. …

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