Places To Go

Mule Shoe CA

Re new your fish ing permit and gear up for a visit to Mule Shoe Conservation Area this month. You’ll find a variety of outdoor activities, from floating and fishing to berry picking and wildflower viewing.

Located east of Cross Timbers in Hickory County, Mule Shoe CA includes two parcels totaling 2,476 acres. The Department purchased the area, which borders the eastern bank of the Little Niangua River for more than a mile, to help protect aquatic habitat for the endangered Niangua darter.

This slender, colorful fish is classified as a state-endangered and federally threatened species. One of the last remaining populations of the Niangua darter survives in the Little Niangua, which provides its required habitat: a clear, clean, continuously flowing stream with silt-free gravel and a rocky bottom.

Fortunately for people, this kind of river habitat is also great for refreshing summer float trips. You’ll find a stream access on the area’s larger southern parcel.

While you’re floating, drop a line in the river for bass, sunfish or suckers. You can also take advantage of the area’s 2-acre fishing pond.

In addition to floating and fishing, you can hike the area’s several miles of interior access trails. These are open to foot traffic only, which helps protect the Niangua darter’s habitat from siltation. Use these trails to visit the area’s dolomite glades (rocky, desertlike habitat), which will be abloom with coneflowers and blazing star. Take a bucket for blackberry picking, too. Stop by the fishless ponds, which serve as wildlife watering holes, to catch a glimpse of the many newts that live there.

While you’re on the area, you’ll notice timber harvesting, which the Department employs to produce more varied wildlife habitat and healthier forest stands. Area managers also use prescribed fire to create a savanna area with scattered, fire-resistant trees and an open, grassy understory. This savanna supports a diverse natural plant community, similar to a native prairie, but unique to the Ozarks and prairie boarder regions of the state.

In addition, many of the bottomland fields are being restored to native bottomland hardwood species to protect streamside corridors and provide additional habitat for streamside wildlife.

As always, visit the area’s website (listed below) for the brochure, map and contact information before your trip.

—Bonnie Chasteen, photo by David Stonner