Ozark Rivers National Monument
A Proposal
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Within the most scenic section of the Ozarks of southeastern Missouri lies the area under consideration. Crossed or skirted by several highways, it is readily accessible, and within an easy day's drive for more than 20 million people. It lies only 175 miles from St. Louis or 250 from Kansas City, yet it remains "off the beaten path".

Here the Current and Eleven Point Rivers flow unimpeded, within a forested landscape. Giant springs, caves and sinkholes accent an outstanding geological story. Wildlife roams the oak—hickory forest. Here, ancient and modern man have added special color.

Ozark Hills — mellow with the beauty of great age. C. C. Brown, National Park Service

nature's story

Superficially, the Ozarks are a land of rolling hills, rivers, and forests. But more, they tell a complex and fascinating story of interrelated phenomena.

Geology is a basic chapter. The oldest rocks in the area were formed in Precambrian time, more than half-a-billion years ago. The newest deposits are the sands and gravels of today. For hundreds of millions of years in between, the land was submerged under ancient seas and then raised above them time and time again. Sediments laid down under these ancient seas, now consolidated into sandstones and limestones, form the bluffs rimming the rivers.

Streams played the major roll in wearing down these rocks to form the rolling country of today. Limestone dissolved and great series of underground caverns formed. Water trickling into these caverns joined with other waters, to emerge eventually as huge springs—thence rivers again.

The countryside is mostly rolling with forested hills rising up to 400 feet above the streams. Its surface is irregular, the eroded remnant of an ancient upland. The most rugged areas border the rivers. Valleys are usually narrow, but occasionally widen into alluvial plains. Tributaries cut smaller ravines and valleys throughout the area.

From wild and beautiful Greer Spring, flows a full-fledged stream—turquoise and white. Massie, Missouri Resources Division

In relief, elevations above sea level vary from 1320 feet at Thorny Mountain to 300 feet where the Current River enters Arkansas. The Current itself falls 690 feet between Montauk Springs, its source, and the Arkansas line, an airline distance of about 80 miles.

The two major rivers under study—the Current and Eleven Point—are strong, and alive, and clean. Their waters are transparent, varying in color by depth and according to the hour of the day, from sapphire blue through many shades of green. Quiet waters alternate with chutes or rapids. They meander through mile after mile of scenic beauty, for long stretches under towering rocky bluffs.

The Current is the largest of these rivers. It rises at Montauk State Park in southern Dent County and flows 140 miles southeasterly through Shannon, Carter, and Ripley Counties to the Arkansas line. Born of Montauk Springs, it is fed by other giants along the way. Even during the severe drought of 1936, the Current maintained an average flow of 611 million gallons a day past Doniphan. Its major tributary is the Jacks Fork which rises In southeast Texas County and flows easterly about 70 miles into Shannon County where it joins the Current. Here along the Jacks Fork is perhaps the finest scenery, with a special wild yet intimate quality.

Rocky Creek cascades over a barrier of harder ancient rock. Massie, Missouri Resources Division

The Eleven Point River with headwaters in the vicinity of Willow Springs in northwest Howell County flows generally southeasterly across Howell and Oregon Counties, thence south, crossing the Arkansas State line to join the Black River about 15 miles below its junction with the Current. Its mean flow, even during 1936, was 130 million gallons a day past Riverton.

The springs are wonderful in themselves. Many are world famous for the immense volume and regularity of their flow. Some issue from rocky recesses; some well up from gravelly beds; some rush forth from caverns; others boil gently up from unknown depths. Their settings often are places of rare beauty.

Of 11 springs in the Missouri Ozarks having an average flow of 65 million or more gallons per day, 6 are in the Current—Eleven Point country—Big Spring, Welch Spring, and Blue Spring on the Current—Alley Spring on Jacks Fork—Greer Spring and Blue Spring on the Eleven Point.

Big Spring is the largest. It has flowed as much as 840 million gallons a day, and for more than 20 years has averaged better than 250 million gallons every 24 hours the year around. The third largest spring in Missouri is Greer. Its two outlets, about 300 feet apart, are located in a beautiful, wild and forested gorge. A mile and a quarter away and 60 feet lower, it enters the Eleven Point River. For over 20 years it has flowed an average of 214 million gallons a day.

Four State Parks in this area have been established to preserve large springs and related scenic or historical values. Each bears the name of the spring involved—Big, Alley, Round, and Montauk.

Extensive dissolving of the limestone widespread in this country led to the formation of a vast series of underground chambers. Caves and caverns, springs, sinks, and other associated features all are dramatic demonstrations of the dynamic solution power of underground water.

Scattered throughout the area are numerous caves. They are of varied character—some quite extensive and magnificently decorated with dripstone. Possessing an even temperature, caves are delightfully cool in the summer, and pleasantly warm in the winter.

Some of these caves, such as Jam Up Cave, have no decoration, but the majority exhibit nearly every type of flowstone decoration to be found anywhere in the world. Round Spring Cavern ranks highest among all these. While smaller than Carlsbad Caverns and Mammoth Cave, both preserved in National Parks, it equals them in the variety and color of their formations. It is the largest charted cave in the area having over 6,000 feet of passageways. Throughout the cavern are domes, stalactites, columns and stalagmites of every conceivable form.

The Current flows deep and slow under overhanging cliffs—a likely spot for goggle-eye. Massie, Missouri Resources Division

Associated with this system of caverns is a large number of sinks and potholes dotting the uplands between the major stream valleys. Some are large elliptical depressions possibly caused by collapse of cavern roofs. Other sinks are funnel-shaped holes resulting from the dissolving of limestone around an opening in the rock, as surface water trickles to the caverns below. They range in size and form from chimney-like shafts 300 feet or more deep, to representative funnel-shaped holes up to 400 feet in diameter and as much as 75 feet deep.

A striking example of sinkhole topography can be seen in "The Sunkland." Here is a great hollow several hundred feet across and nearly a mile long, produced by the successive fall-in of several interconnected underground chambers. It is an almost classic example of this phenomenon.

The "shut-ins" are in great contrast to the general landscape dominated by limestone features. "Shut-ins" are numerous in the Current River valley east of Eminence Rocky Creek Falls, a delightfully attractive cascade, is an excellent example. Here masses of ancient dark-pink, granite-like rocks are exposed through which Rocky Creek has cut rugged gorges. The valley is wider above and below, where the stream cut through softer sedimentary rock. Oftentimes where these ancient rocks occur, they appear as relatively flat surfaces. But here the later sedimentary rocks surround, but did not completely bury, knobs of ancient rock that once stood as islands in now-vanished seas hundreds of millions of years ago.

About three-fourths of the land is covered with forest. This forest is almost entirely immature "hardwoods," with oaks and hickories predominating. Here and there are a few scattered patches of nearly mature pines, but nowhere similar to the stands of 75 years ago.

Because of variations in soil, micro-climate, slope, and exposure within the area, a proper analysis of plant relationships is extremely difficult. For example, within a relatively limited area, such as a "sink," marshy pond communities exist within a relatively dry oak-hickory forest.

Despite these fairly complex relationships, four forest types are recognized. The oak-hickory type is the dominant upland forest of the Ozark plateau. Within the four general types, there are other plant associations, each quite different. The above-mentioned marshy pond is one good example. Another distinctive association grows on the drier limestone bluffs. The "shut-ins" contain a still different assortment of plants. Besides the oaks and hickories, other common trees of the forest are maple, shortleaf pine, tulip tree, black tupelo, sweet gum, and birch. Others notable for their flowers or fruit are hawthorn, bittersweet, dogwood, redbud, rose azalea, and bush hydrangea.

In all, 1,500 different kinds of plants are reportedly found here. This great variety is due to several factors, one of the most important being the long period of time that the Ozarks have stood free as land masses. Glaciation, too, brought climatic changes which induced northern plants to migrate south. With the retreat of the ice sheet, southern plants moved northward.

Likewise, due to the area's central location on the continent, plants spread here from both the east and west. Thus cool bluffs contain plants characteristic of the Appalachians; marshes around potholes contain plants similar to those of the South; and dry sites contain plants with a southwestern affinity. The combination of all these characteristics make this an outstanding area botanically.

Dragon's Mouth - Round Spring Cavern. Massie, Missouri Resources Division

The forests provide homes for many mammals and birds. White-tailed deer, gray and fox squirrels, raccoon, opossum, and skunk are quite plentiful. Less common are red and gray foxes, bobcat, mink, muskrat, and cottontail rabbit. Badgers are occasionally seen. The rare red wolf is still found here.

Birdlife is abundant. The more common birds to be seen along the waterways are the kingfisher and the little green heron. Numerous songbirds make this area their summer home. Teal and wood duck nest here. Wild turkeys are making a comeback. Perhaps the most spectacular bird of the area is the crow-sized, pileated woodpecker. Many other birds are visitors, pausing here on their northward and southward migrations.

The Current, the Jacks Fork, and the Eleven Point Rivers are among the best smallmouth bass streams left in Missouri. Ninety-three species of fish have been reported from these rivers. Rock and smallmouth bass are the most abundant native game species. Largemouth bass, walleyed pike, and chain pickerel are fairly common. Ozark blindfish would possibly be found if further studies were made in caves where they were once reported.

Man stands dwarfed before impressive Jam Up Cave pondering the power of water over eons of time. Robert K. Bergman, National Park Service

man's story

In general, river valleys the world over were logical locations for the development of prehistoric cultures. The valleys under consideration are no exception.

The ever-flowing streams, the springs, and the forests, with. their ready abundance of drink, fuel, and food, were irresistible attractions to the prehistoric hunters, fishers, and gatherers. The fertile bottoms attracted those who grew maize, beans, and squash. Here they established camps on the level terraces of the valleys, and sometimes they occupied the inviting caves. Some erected earthen mounds over their dead.

Prehistoric man was living in the Ozarks well before the Christian Era, in fact, nearly 10,000 years ago. Limited investigations by archeologists reveal that Indians continuously occupied some sites from about 8,000 B.C. down to historic times—running the whole gamut of Mississippi valley archeology from Paleo-Indian (Early Man) through Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippi Cultures, to historic tribes first seen by De Soto in 1541.

The Ozark Plateau Culture, with special manifestations in the Current—Eleven Point region, developed at a crossroads between the Arkansas and the Mississippi valleys by borrowing some traits from various cultural centers of both areas. This culture is an especially unique expression, combining cultural traits from such sources as the great Cahokia Center of East St. Louis, Illinois, yet developing its own variations, such as distinctive serrated spearpoints.

Oak forests furnish food and shelter for Ozark wildlife. Missouri Conservation Commission, Don Wooldridge

Four prehistoric sites are of special interest. Pigman Mound, by its shape, size, and surface indications, was a ceremonial center of the Mississippian Culture. Ashley Cave shows special development of a more northerly culture. Morgan Mound and associated sites provide evidence of early inhabitants. At Round Spring, in Round Spring State Park, Middle Mississippian burials have been found and weapons and tools of Early Man have been washed to the surface.

The modern history of the region is similar to that of the Ozark country as a whole. This area was originally claimed by the French and Spanish. However, neither left much of an impact on the Ozarks. The region was settled primarily by Anglo-Saxon groups from the eastern uplands. Lumbermen later exploited the region.


Historical and Archeological Sites

Caves and Ecological Sites

No nationally significant historic sites are known. The self-sufficient economy of the people from the mountain sections of the east which readily adapted itself to the Ozarks, has left a dominating imprint on the culture and economy of the region. Other influences such as the recovery of nitrates during the War of 1812, have played their part in the country's development.

Certain features help tell this story—Ashley Cave, with its relationship to nitrate mining; Snider House, which served as a temporary hospital during the Civil War; Turner's Mill, Falling Spring Mill, an interesting overshot type, and Greer Mill, operated remotely by a system of long shafts and gears; and the three current-propelled ferries. The Red Mill at Alley Spring State Park has been restored.

"Gravel bars are clean and dry - good spots for camping." Missouri Conservation Commission, Don Wooldridge

the four seasons

Four marked seasons occur, spring—short with delightfully crisp clear days; summer—hot, with occasional extremes but cooler in the hills; fall—a pleasant season, with a gradual decline from the summer highs; winter—cold, with an occasional zero temperature, but with many sunny days.

Weather Bureau records indicate that the Current—Eleven Point River country is warmer during the winter months than either St. Louis or Kansas City, and, except for the lower portion of the Current around Doniphan, cooler during July and August.

Most summer rains come as heavy thundershowers of short duration. Spring rains are lighter and longer. The heaviest snowfall occurs in February. The major source of this precipitation is the result of warm, moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico coming into contact with cold Arctic air masses.

In summer, this area is the coolest part of southern Missouri, but periods of high relative humidity make the area uncomfortable at times. On some winter days, temperatures remain below freezing while on many others, they stay above.

"Be sure that there will always be solitude on earth for those who are worthy of it." Massie, Missouri Resources Division

Greer Spring Branch. Massie, Missouri Resources Division

use of the river

In this part of Missouri, developed State Parks have received the same sharp increase in public use experienced over the country. The rivers themselves, however, have remained somewhat "off the beaten path." River use is still relatively light and largely by local people. It has developed special Ozark flavor in keeping with its history. Here John-boats were adapted to "floating" and "float-fishing." Alternating rapids or chutes and quiet waters were ideal. The current does the heavy work and full attention can be given to a variety of fishing, watching the scenery, or just plain relaxing.

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Last Updated: 04-Nov-2009