Challenge & Response: The Missouri National Recreational River

August 15, 2013 Posted by: Chris Wilkinson

Two of the greatest challenges for the  staff of the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR) are building awareness at the local, regional and national levels that the MNRR is a National Park and secondly, where the park is actually located. In this first blog post we would like to put the park's designation and location in a national context. We hope you will share this post and many forthcoming ones with friends and interested parties.

Let's start with the fact that the MNRR is a National Park unit, just like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone are units of the National Park system. The MNRR's designation as a National Recreational River makes it no less of a National Park than the other 400 units of the National Park system. Most people know the National Park Service (NPS) as the agency that oversees dramatic natural areas protected as National Park's. Many of these are world renowned places such as Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Badlands, Glacier and Mount Rainier just to name a few.  Despite the fact that places designated as "National Park" are what most likely comes to mind when then public thinks about National Park sites, they are not the most numerous National Park unit designations. There are only 59 "National Parks" out of the 401 units. That leaves 342 other units. These go by over 30 different designations which include National River, National Scenic River, National River & Recreation Area and of course National Recreational River.

Got that? Don't worry even we have trouble keeping up with the vagaries of the system. Instead of delving into the why's behind each different designation, it is enough for now to say that the Missouri National Recreational River is one of 401 super special places set aside for the enjoyment of present and future generations!To learn more about the different designations for National park units click on the following link:

far as location is concerned, let's start with some perspective concerning the Missouri River. Did you know that only one-third of the Missouri River - North America's longest river - is actually a river! Say what? That's right. It goes like this: one-third of the Missouri has been channelized for navigation (think barge traffic and transportation), one-third of it is submerged in reservoirs and that leaves a final third of relatively natural, free flowing river. This latter third is where the MNRR comes into the picture. The MNRR contains two stretches of  relatively free flowing river. The first section designated in 1978 stretches 59 miles from just below Gavins Point Dam all the way downstream to Ponca State Park. The second section designated in 1991 is a bit more complex. It not only contains a 39 mile stretch of the Missouri from just below Fort Randall Dam down to Running Water, South Dakota, but also includes the lower 20 miles of the Niobrara River and 8 miles of Verdigre Creek which flows into the Niobrara. 

Two intriguing things to keep in mind when putting the uniqueness of the MNRR into perspective: 1) it contains the first stretch of free flowing Missouri River that can be found when heading upstream from the river's mouth in St. Louis. It's pretty incredible to think that it takes 752 river miles before the natural river is reached at the MNRR boundary at Ponca State Park. Every mile of the river below that has been channelized. As a matter of fact, the Missouri has lost over 120 miles to channelization.2) another incredible fact concerning the river's location is that it is the ONLY stretch of the Middle Missouri River that is relatively natural. The rest of this section of the river has been either channelized or is now a part of reservoirs.

So there you have it folks. We hope that by educating the public on the uniqueness of the MNRR it will lead to better understanding and enjoyment of this national treasure. Until next time…

1 Comments Comments icon

  1. August 19, 2013 at 03:43

    Very interesting!

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