St. Francis River
Points of Interest:
• Walk along a highly scenic boulder-strewn Ozark stream (especially scenic in spring).
• Try your hand at bank fishing in a diverse fishery.
• Marvel at the rarity of the St. Francis River crayfish, found just in the St. Francis River basin of Missouri and nowhere else in the world.
Natural History: The St. Francis River flows for 1.2 miles through impressive granite shut-ins on this natural area. Granite bluffs studded with shortleaf pines loom over the rapids of the St. Francis River. The St. Francis here hosts a diverse fauna including fishes, crayfishes, and mussels. Over 50 fish species have been recorded for this stretch of the St. Francis including the bigeye shiner, steelcolor shiner, rainbow darter, and blackspotted topminnow. Anglers will find sunfish, smallmouth bass, walleye and goggle eye to fish for.
Also inhabiting these waters are a number of crayfish with very restricted distributions. The St. Francis River crayfish, a species of conservation concern, only occurs here and nowhere else in the world. The Hubbs’, golden, and spothanded crayfish living here are species just found in the Ozarks of Missouri and northern Arkansas. Unfortunately the woodland crayfish, a native Missouri crayfish originally found in the Black River basin, has been introduced to the St. Francis River basin, where it has displaced the St. Francis River crayfish in Stouts Creek. This highlights the problems with transferring aquatic organisms from one basin to the other without prior testing. Anglers using live bait of minnows or crayfish should never dump unused bait back into the water but instead place it in sealed containers in the garbage or on land far away from the waterway.
The bottom of the river is home to over six mussel species. Mussels are good environmental indicators and the presence of a diverse mussel community may indicate good water quality and stream habitat. Mussels are filter-feeders that spend most of their lives partially buried in the river substrate except for a brief period of their life cycle when they are a larvae, called a glochidia, which attaches to the gills of an appropriate host fish. For example, the female western fanshell, a species of conservation concern that inhabits the river here, extrudes a white, worm-like lure to attract its host fish (mostly in the darter family). When the fish bites the lure the glochidia are released and some may successfully lodge in the fish’s gills. After awhile the glochidia transform into juvenile mussels and drop off the fish’s gills to become adult mussels on the river bottom. Such is the fascinating life cycle of a mussel!
As you walk along the banks of the river look for red-shouldered hawks and belted kingfishers over the water and listen for pine warblers in the nearby woods. Enjoy watching the tremendous force of flowing water as it slowly carves its path through these ancient granite rocks. Decent sunfish, smallmouth bass, walleye and goggle eye fishing can also be had along the river.
From the intersection of Highways 67 and 72 in Fredericktown, head west on Highway 72 for 8.5 miles and turn left (south) at the sign for the area onto a gravel road. Follow the gravel road south for about 0.5 mile and turn left (east) onto another gravel road that leads to a parking lot and the trailhead for the Tiemann Shut-ins Hiking Trail. The Tiemann Shut-ins Hiking Trail is a paved, disabled-accesible 1 mile hiking trail that leads down to an overlook over the St. Francis River and the natural area. From the overlook a natural surface hiking trail heads both east and west paralleling the river. If you head west this hiking trail will reach a conservation area parking lot in a 1/3 mile. Heading east the hiking trail follows the river for 0.5 mile on the conservation area and then joins a hiking trail on the Mark Twain National Forest that leads for another 0.5 mile east down to the Silver Mines Recreation Area (operated by the U.S. Forest Service, call 573-364-4621).
This section of the St. Francis River is for experienced canoeists only and can be hazardous during floods. Decent fishing can be had along the river. Hunting is permitted.