Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, a spot that witnessed the passage of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery 199 years ago this month, is moving into a new phase of its history. In its latest incarnation, it will host bikers, hikers, birdwatchers and anglers. By the fall of 2004, when the Missouri Department of Conservation completes the next phase of development there, waterfowl hunters will join the ranks of Columbia Bottom regulars.
Columbia Bottom CA reopened to public use May 30. When the Conservation Department bought the 4,300-acre area in 1997, it was mostly farmland with limited recreational potential. Access to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, which form the area's east and north boundaries, was difficult at best. Completion of Phase 1 development this spring will make it a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs from coast to coast.
"The opportunities at Columbia Bottom are just tremendous," said area manager Tom Leifield, a wildlife management biologist for the Conservation Department. "It will offer a full range of recreation, and with the approach of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, this area is going to see a lot of visitors right away."
One feature that will make the area particularly popular among Lewis and Clark aficionados is a viewing platform overlooking the confluence of the continent's two greatest rivers. Nationally sponsored Lewis and Clark signature events in the area next spring are expected to trigger an influx of visitors intent on retracing the path of the Corps of Discovery up the Missouri River. Visitors will find Columbia Bottom CA a convenient place not only to look at the rivers, but to enjoy many of the adventures that early explorers found along the river.
A double-wide, disabled-accessible boat ramp with fishing dock and other amenities will give visitors free access to hunting, fishing, camping and beach combing on the two rivers. Anglers will find abundant channel, blue and flathead catfish, as well as freshwater drum, carp, gar, sturgeon, walleye and other fish species.
The rivers also offer waterfowl hunting, an opportunity that will be enhanced by an 800-acre wetland development on Columbia Bottom slated for completion by the fall of 2004. Deer and turkey hunting already are available there.
The four-phase construction plan, expected to be completed in 2005, includes plans for a visitor center, reforestation and placement of interpretive "Exploration Stations" focusing on native and migratory wildlife, plant species and the rivers.
Bird and wildlife watchers will find abundant viewing opportunities at Columbia Bottom CA. Species on the area include migratory waterfowl to wild turkeys, beaver, bald eagles and groundhogs.
Managed hunts will be available on the area for whitetail deer and doves in the fall of 2003. Waterfowl hunting opportunities will be offered once the wetland project is completed.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Park and Recreation District worked with the Conservation Department on the project. Eventually, trails there will connect with a system of greenways, parks and trails that includes Katy Trail State Park, the Confluence Greenway, the Missouri River Greenway and the Riverfront Trail.
Columbia Bottom CA is on Columbia Bottom Road, 2.5 miles north of I-270 Riverview Drive in St. Louis County. For information about the area, call 636-441-4554.