Vantage Point

The Bridges' Place

My wife and I own 180 acres of wild land in the Ozarks. We call it "The Bridges' Place," out of respect to Andrew Johnston Bridges who built his homestead there in the 1800s. Today, the only evidence of early settlement is a log, "dog trot" house--two rooms with a breezeway between them. There is no one left to tell how or when the pine logs were hewn from tall trees and fitted together, but this landmark reminds us of the pioneer craftsmen who resided here.

The Bridges' Place is a long way from our home, and we don't visit as often as we would like. We try to go there at least once a season, and soon after we arrive we always take a long walk with the hope that we will see a rare creature or plant, perhaps a bear or a lady slipper orchid. I usually have my camera in hand, but I have never been satisfied with the pictures I've taken because they fail to capture the depth of the experience.

If I had to pick only one season for The Bridges' Place field trip, it would be autumn, and October would be my favorite month. It's gorgeous outdoors in October, especially where Missouri's colorful fall foliage is in full display. Many of Missouri's oak species are represented on the Bridges' Place, as well as maple, hickory, dogwood, sassafras, sycamore, gum, ash, and others. The variety of color displayed by these hardwood species blends perfectly with the green of shortleaf pines scattered among them.

Like many Missourians who own parcels of land, we like the feeling of both freedom and responsibility to do what we think is right on the property. We are both consumptive and non-consumptive users of this land, and I see no inconsistency in this. I experience as much pleasure from identifying song birds as I do hunting deer with my sons. Full-fledged outdoors people can and should develop multiple uses of land and natural resources.

Many landowners have little experience managing for wildlife, and we find ourselves in need of information before we can make decisions. Today's federal and state programs designed to assist landowners with conservation practices are complex enough to challenge the understanding of anyone unfamiliar with them.

To serve private landowners like us, the Department of Conservation provides advice and technical support free of charge. Missouri Department of Conservation employees have made it their business to understand those programs and opportunities so that they can help us use them to make conservation practices happen on our land, if that is what we want.

The Bridges' Place is about 80 percent forest and 20 percent open fields with a small, wet-weather stream running through it. Heeding some good advice, we have planted a variety of trees in a narrow strip adjacent to the creek to reforest the stream corridor. We renovated one pond for wildlife watering and to provide habitat for amphibians. We also plan to renovate another. We want to keep the balance of the fields open to provide edge habitat, cover and food for quail and other wildlife. Restoration of native grasses is a project for tomorrow.

If you own some acreage, you may need help in fulfilling your vision and the responsibilities we share to provide for Mother Nature. Department of Conservation employees are here to serve. Please call us. We would be glad to help you achieve your conservation goals on your property. This service is hugely important to us as conservation professionals, and to everyone who cares about our fish, forests and wildlife.

John D. Hoskins, Director