Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Fall Float on the Courtois

Aluminum canoes are unforgiving on floats in shallow, gravel-choked streams. With the recent dry weather, the Courtois was barely floatable, which meant that every low water situation either resulted in bailing out of the canoe to drag it to deeper water or forcing through the shallows by digging paddles into gravel and scooting along. With six canoes in our group, the deep gravel and shallow water oftentimes did not allow for a peaceful fall float experience. But the water was clear, temperatures topped out at 69 degrees, and it was a beautiful day to be on the stream.

With recent changes to my schedule, I've found myself recently exploring the Dissected Till Plains region of North Missouri in between my regular forays into the Ozarks. Admittedly, I haven't spent too much time in the Meramec River Hills region around the Huzzah and Courtois, so taking a float and a short hike along the Ozark Trail in that area was certainly rewarding. Steep dry cliffs reminiscent of the Jack's Fork River line sections of the stream, and the area is rich with other karst features located (I think) in the Gasconade Formation. The woodlands surrounding the stream have not been managed with fire in many decades and therefore possess few traces of woodland flora--a spreading aster here and a stiff-leaved aster there, mostly restricted to the trail corridor where light can reach the woodland floor.

Due to the lack of fire, closed canopy, and the deep loessal soils prevalent in the area, the woodlands have taken on a forested condition: a massive Schumard oak perched high on a ridgetop stands sentry, a tree normally restricted to low lying, deep, true forest where fire doesn't travel. Historically, there was very little true forest, mostly restricted to steep ravines, sinkholes, areas existing in a fire shadow, but likely not on a high and dry ridgetop. The mesification of thousands of acres of our historic woodlands is largely due to the interruption of a fire regime following the era of significant logging operations and open range grazing. This is the condition that represents much of the Ozarks today. Historic records indicate a much more open landscape with prairie grasses and forbs, a fire-mediated system that may have been lost altogether. Similar landscapes in the Meramec River Hills that have witnessed a 30 year prescribed fire program are testament of what this landscape once looked like. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and other early explorers wouldn't recognize the area if they visited today.

Regardless, a hike and a float on a nice fall day are always welcome activities as the days march towards darkness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about this beautiful little river, I have fond memories of it.