Points of Interest:
• Hear the chorus of marsh-dwelling frogs, toads, and wetland birds at dawn and dusk during the spring and summer.
• Walk into the marsh on a boardwalk to get a close look at marsh life.
• See a scene that would have been familiar to French traders and Native Americans of the Missouri tribe.
Natural History: The name Oumessourit (pronounced oo meh soo ree) is the French word for the indigenous peoples that lived in this region and had initial contact with French traders and missionaries in the 17th century. The natural area includes a marsh remnant in the Missouri River floodplain and mesic forest associated with nearby steep loess-mantled hills. The Missouri River floodplain is nine miles wide in this location. When the Missouri Indians lived in the area it was a vast complex of bottomland prairies, marshes, and sloughs. The river was dynamic and always shifting its course. Today along this stretch of the river productive row crop fields dominate and less than 5% of the original wetlands remain.
In the natural area emergent aquatic plants such as river bulrush, common bur reed, water smartweed, and shoreline sedge cover large areas of the marsh where the water depth reaches two feet. The north end of the marsh, with water depths over four feet, supports floating and submerged aquatic plants such as eel grass, pondweeds, and humped bladderwort. Along the edges of the marsh a variety of sedges, rice cut grass, and fowl manna grass thrive. Over 100 native plants have been documented including four species of conservation concern.
Wetlands such as these are extremely important for the conservation of amphibians and rare marsh breeding birds. These marsh species of conservation concern are highly secretive and more often heard than seen. The American bittern, least bittern, king rail, sora, and marsh wren all depend on marshes like this for breeding habitat.
At one point the Missouri River channel was located where the marsh is today. Over time the river abandoned this site and an oxbow lake was left that eventually filled in with sediments and created the marsh of today. In 1918 a drainage ditch was built along the western border of the marsh and today still empties directly into the Missouri River. The spoil from digging the ditch was placed directly east of the ditch and created the levee which remains today along the west boundary of the marsh. The core of the park was donated to the state by Annie Van Meter and her brother Charles Pittman. Beginning in 1990 park staff has worked to restore a more natural hydrology of the marsh. At Van Meter State Park visitors can gain an appreciation of the beauty and diversity of a historic landscape within the context of a significant archaeological site. The park is also the site of Missouri’s Native American Cultural Center
From Marshall, take Highway 41 north for 7.3 miles. Turn left (west) on Highway 122 and go for 4.7 miles to the visitor center on the right. The Oumessourit Wetland Boardwalk Trail is a one mile trail that provides access to the natural area. The trail starts in the picnic area. Hunting is prohibited.