Sunday, August 23, 2015

Catch it while you can....

Last week, my kid sister visited Missouri for the first time since the early 1990s, her first trip to visit me- a transplant from New Orleans after Katrina -in my new homeland. It's been ten years since I relocated to Missouri so it was, as my mother would say, "high time" my kid sister came to visit from her fancy world of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Her first introduction to Missouri was Blue Spring in the late 1980s, not the Kansas City-area Blue Springs, but the little Ozark spring somewhere on the Scenic Riverways, a deep water hole accessible by car on truly rustic and not well-maintained gravel road. The karst landscape and blue waters were entrancing to her. At that time, my kid sister lived in a fabulous 1983 Westphalia van while following the Grateful Dead, years before Jerry died and the whole Dead scene degraded to a...not very pleasant experience for anyone but grifters. She had an outpost cabin in northwestern Arkansas: fall colors without the cold weather, a patch of land to grow some food, no running water, barely any electricity and a wood stove for heat. She had a great place in the Arkansas Ozarks, but she had never really ventured into Missouri, barring a random trip where she ended up at Blue Spring.

Three days. She flew in for a three day stay in Missouri. How to cram everything I want to show my wonderful, very smart, and perspicacious kid sister into three days, making sure to show her the best the Ozarks has to offer in an effort to entice her to come for a longer stay, to explain to my family who wants me to move back home that Missouri has a lot to offer. So we went to the headwaters of the Current River. Trout dinner (not locally caught, since most of that tastes like antibiotics and cat food), fireflies and katydids on a streambank, and an 8 mile float complete with a lot of hummus, carrots, Fig Newtons and 2011 St. James Norton in steel canisters. My kid sister has a lot of experience kayaking on the Snake River, on the Henry's Fork, the Green, and so forth, so the little riffles and tricky rootwads were very relaxing to her. Damselflies! Louisiana waterthrush! Kingfishers shooting lazers as they fly down the river corridor!

We took a mid-week float on a vaguely popular stretch of river. There were many others on the river, some in the same boat we were in, folks wanting a wild experience to truly capture the upper Current, to see the wood ducks and herons, the wonderful drone of the morning cicadas. And then there were those with the loud radios playing horrible music coming from behind, the folks bringing their domestic disputes to the river, the scene that I try to avoid by floating on early weekdays. It was unavoidable. We were committed to our float.

I see the numbers of canoes and kayaks and inflatable rafts and other floatation devices, I see them issuing forth onto the river system and I wonder how wildlife manages with all of this recreational use of the river. How much of the party scene can persist before the people who are wanting to float the river for the scenic and solitary value become disengaged to the point that they don't want to return? So many stretches of Missouri rivers have been relegated to "party" status that they have been allowed to become degraded. The Gasconade, once a home to numerous rare mussel species, is now a jet-boat stream with so much sedimentation and streambank erosion, and no protection of the streambanks from cattle grazing, that the whole river is trashed ecologically. The Niangua River, once a focus area of biodiversity, has been seriously degraded in recent years with the explosion of float outfitters in the watershed with improper wastewater systems and land clearing.

I tried to show my kid sister what was good in the Ozarks. The areas I showed her are in good standing at present time but under pressure for more development, more "growth" in the American model. But people don't come to the Current River country for wifi access and fancy dining. If they do, they can just as well visit Shaw Nature Reserve or Branson. Leave the Current River Hills country to the people who respect the land and love the river for its smallmouth bass population, for the rugged hills and bad cellphone reception, for the wood ducks and cooters. I hate seeing development in the watershed that is driving pollution and nutrient loading into the streams. Do you give up? Is it all in the name of progress?

1 comment:

TNWT said...

The beauty of the Current River starts two days after labor day. My wife and I had the entire stretch to ourselves except for one other canoe which drifted only a short distance before getting distracted and leaving us to ourselves and the numerous Blue Herons, turtles, wild horses (yes, wild horses in one area), river otter, etc. We need to come back to do this again.