Formed by the convergence of the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin rivers in the Rocky Mountains area of southwestern Montana (Gallatin county), U.S., the Missouri River, at 3,726 km in length, is the longest river in the United States. About 1,200 metres above sea level, the river played an important part in the explorations and expansion of the American West. Considered the “Center of Life” for the Great Plains, the Missouri has served as the main artery for exploration, food, trade, and transportation for millions of people over thousands of years. The Missouri River long ago garnered the nickname the “Big Muddy,” inspired by the enormous loads of sediment it pushed through the river system. However, the amount of sediment transported has diminished as dams, levees, and channelization increased over time. Today, the river might be more accurately described as a gentle giant.
Although Missouri is not the first place to come to mind when thinking about islands, the Missouri Rivers actually contain quite a few. There are 251 Islands in Missouri, most are used for a wide variety of things such as wildlife and nature reserves, hunting and fishing spots, and mountain biking trails. Although many tiny islands can be seen in times of lower water, these 5 are noted for their size, beauty, and function.
Considered to be one of the best remaining islands of the Missouri River, Pelican Island is a perfect example of a pure, mature floodplain forest, hence the Natural Area status. It is the perfect spot for birdwatching in the spring, with large numbers of several varieties of migrant warblers coming to the island to sing their songs. Located on the eastern edge of Sioux Passage Park in north St. Louis County, the 2,260-acre Pelican Island Natural Area is made up primarily of the island’s forest, but also includes a small strip of land and old field habitats at the base of the river bluffs. The floods of 1993 and 1995 killed a number of trees but the island’s riverfront forest is a dynamic community type and new trees have grown back in. Cottonwood, black willow, sycamore, hackberry, sugarberry, silver maple, box elder and red mulberry form forests ranging from thickets of young trees to more mature stands. Vines are common including raccoon grape, other grape species, and poison ivy. Unfortunately, due to the dynamic nature of this ecosystem a number of invasive, exotic species occur in the understory including the exotic vine species, Japanese hops. Access is by boat only. Fishing is permitted as well as Deer hunting only through managed hunts.
The site is a beautiful river oasis that is begging to be explored. The Missouri River surrounds this 2,547-acre area on the north side, with Centaur Chute surrounding it to the south. Howell Island is a protected area purchased in 1978 and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Located in St. Charles County, across the Missouri River from the Weldon Spring Conservation Area in Boone Township, most of the island is forested with bottomland trees such as sycamore and cottonwood, but crop and shrub/grass fields also provide important habitat for wildlife. The name of Howell comes from the early settlers, and the island was submerged during the Great Flood of 1993. At the site, camping is permitted, but limited. There are a limited number of boaters travelling during the spring and summer across the Missouri River, a 13 km hiking and biking trail. It is also a great fishing or hunting spot, but a consult through the website for restrictions and regulations is required. Entrance to the island is by a causeway over Centaur Chute. During high water, the causeway is flooded, and access is by boat only.
Derived its name from the goat herd grazed there in the 1940s and 50s, this prominent island, also affectionately known and referred to by locals as Jake’s Island. Goat Island is a remnant of large emergent sandbars that later developed into successional forests and sand flats. While the overall landscape has changed with time, the area’s geologic and riverine scientific study suggests a high probability the island existed during the passage of their expedition in 1804 and 1806. Today the 800-acre property supports a wide variety of wildlife on its sandbars and within its dense forested areas of cottonwood and Eastern red-cedar. Chutes paralleling the island, free-flowing water, vegetation, and sandbars not only provide important wildlife habitat, but add to the aesthetic qualities of the Park. Goat Island provides unique recreational opportunities, as well as a place to simply pause and reflect. Situated along the Missouri National Recreational River Water Trail, the island is one of only a few places in both Nebraska and South Dakota where island camping, hiking, hunting, and other pleasure activities are available on publicly owned land. As part of the National Park Service System, the island is ideally suited as a stopover point for boaters navigating the river. Similarly, Goat Island provides a natural setting to hike trails or set out on one’s own to explore and enjoy the riverine backdrop.
Located on the border of Tennessee and Missouri, 18 km north of Caruthersville, Missouri, McLean Island is a considered one of the best spots in Missouri for duck hunting the country has to offer. The unique topography of this island represents the best and most stimulating duck hunting obtainable today. The area consists of approximately 1,200 acres of wooded land complete with roads and running water from a cased well that comprises a true island in the Mississippi River. In addition to the duck hunting, the island is host to a diverse array of other species of wildlife such as deer, turkey, raccoon, coyotes and eagles.
An island in the south of the Blanchette Bridge, the Louis H. Bangert Memorial Wildlife Area (Bangert Island) was a partnership between the Missouri Department of Conservation and the St. Charles County Parks Department. This 160-acre park is premier spot for mountain bikers. Located between the Katy Trail and the Missouri River just south of downtown St. Charles, it features a total of 6.7 km of single-track biking trails with varying levels of difficulty. Guests may encounter white-tailed deer, turkey, raccoons, opossums, and a variety of songbirds. The site is a typical wooded Missouri River island, the land features cottonwood, sycamore, box elder, silver maple, and black willow trees. In addition to birdwatching, hiking, bicycling, and photography, park guests may also fish along the banks of the Missouri River that flows below the park – although state fishing regulations apply, and hunting is prohibited. The park is open from sunrise to sunset throughout the year. However, the trail is subject to seasonal flooding and the park may be closed during high river levels if the trail access is blocked by high water.