Sunday was one of those beautiful fall days that this area is often blessed with this time of the year, and it was perfect for enjoying the 27th Annual Poosey Driving Tour at the Conservation Department's forested area northwest of Chillicothe. A large crowd of almost 1,000 people came through the gates to view the brilliant reds, oranges and yellows of the leaves that are beginning to fall to alert us that winter is no longer that far away. The tour allowed people to drive their vehicles on almost 10 miles of interior roads of the Poosey Conservation Area that aren't normally open to public driving. Educational stops along the way provided an insight into the field and forest management on one of the largest (almost 6,000 acres) forests in north central Missouri.
This was a "self-guided" tour and by using the informative brochure handed out to motorists at its beginning near Pike's Lake, visitors could see the various management practices that have developed this area into what it must have looked like when first discovered by early settlers. Stops along the way emphasized the use of forest openings, prairie management, walnut plantations, timber stand improvement and food plots to improve the area and provide better wildlife habitat. One area demonstrated how an unchecked "exotic" plant (in this case sericea lespedeza) can take over and destroy valuable native habitat.
The emphasis this year was the department's new campaign called "Trees Work", spreading the word on just how valuable trees are to the well-being of our environment. As stated in the brochure "Without trees….hammocks would just be blankets on the ground". Trees are vital in producing the oxygen we breath and enhance our lives by filtering our air and water, lowering our heating and cooling costs, beautifying our homes and towns, providing necessary habitat for other plants and animals, and providing jobs and income from the wood products that we use every day.
Although the emphasis was on trees and the forest, the benefits provided by the native prairie that was also a vital part of the pre-settlement land in this area were also emphasized. One-third of Missouri was once covered by "tall-grass" prairie, so named because the native prairie grass here was as tall as six feet. This prairie supported about 200 plant species and a large diversity of animal species, including at one time large herds of bison. Fires set by Native Americans helped the tallgrass prairie to develop and is still necessary in prairie management. There is almost no native prairie left in Missouri, but MDC has restored smaller areas similar to what it once was.
Timber stand improvement, healthy waters, particularly in the bottomlands adjacent to streams, bottomland forests and food plots, all of which are vital to wildlife, were demonstrated at stops along the tour, showing the constant attention needed to improve a natural area to be the best it can be for the many species of wildlife that live there. A "demo" area, manned by MDC technicians midway through the tour, allowed attendees the opportunity to stretch their legs and ask questions about what they'd seen and were going to see. Youngsters could try to find their way through a tree maze here and I believe that all the young participants were accounted for before the tour closed. Of particular emphasis at the demo site was the presence in Missouri of the exotic Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle that was discovered to have arrived in this state in 2008, but has spread rapidly and is capable of killing all the ash trees as it spreads. Its travel is assisted by humans with the moving of infested firewood and nursery stock, and persons with ash trees (my major source of shade at home) need to be alert to the presence of these insects to prevent further spreading. An excellent brochure detailing how to detect the presence of these beetles in your trees was available at the demo stop and can be obtained from MDC's field office.
Page 2 of 2 - A trip to Poosey would not be complete without a stop at the legendary "Panther Den" and the last tour stop was at that location, the historical site where legend says that (way back in the 1800s), a child was killed by a panther (mountain lion) and then tracked by pioneer hunters to a cave in the towering limestone bluff where a cave was its den and killed. The site was also a popular community gathering place in the "old" days, and names and dates scratched in the limestone and still visible there go back over a hundred years.
This year for the first time a Poosey Hiking Tour, sponsored by the Green Hills Trail Association, was also available in conjunction with the driving tour. The association, with volunteer help, has completed an 11 mile system of hiking trails with several "loops" of shorter trails for those that might not want to walk the whole distance. For this Hiking Tour, 3 trail options were offered, ranging from 1 mile to 4.5 miles, with some shorter "out and back" trails. These trails wind through the woods and along Indian Creek Lake, offering a great chance to see this natural area at a slower pace and close up. The Hiking Tour was very popular with attendees and hopefully will be offered again next year.
This year's strange weather patterns may have held back the "fall color" development a little, but the hundreds of oak, hickory, walnut, and other trees were putting on a pretty good show for the 27th annual Poosey Driving Tour, giving "town folks" an opportunity to get a glimpse of what this area must have looked like when the early settlers first arrived here more than 150 years ago. If you missed this year's tour, be sure to put the third Sunday in October on your calendar for next year so you won't miss out again. It's a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon outdoors.