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Our Ozarks Natural Heritage
The Ozarks include much of southern Missouri and the northern third of
Arkansas, as well as smaller parts of Oklahoma and Kansas. It is the largest
mountainous region between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains,
covering nearly 47,000 square miles.
The Ozarks "Mountains"
are really a high and deeply
eroded plateau of ravines
and ridges. It is all that re-
mains of an ancient range of
volcanic mountains. Hun-
dreds of millions of years
ago, shallow seas covered
them and left deep layers of
sedimentary rocks.
These sedimentary rocks,
including limestone, dolo-
mite, and sandstone, are
easily eroded by water.
Karst
is the name for this special kind of landscape. Water seeps through the rock,
carving out caves and sinkholes, and reappearing as springs. Missouri is known
as "The Cave State" with over 6000 caves (second only to Tennessee).
Many swift, clear streams, fed from underground aquifers, flow through the
Ozarks. Surface runoff can easily pollute these underground sources because
it runs directly through the rock without being filtered by soil or gravel.
As more people come to live and work in the Ozarks, demand on underground
water supplies grows.
From the reports of early explorers, we know that the Ozarks were home to
many different plant communities. Valley bottoms were covered by dense
forests; valley walls with oak, hickory and pine; and uplands with prairie, oak
savanna, open forests, and open grassy glades, or barrens. Bear, elk, wolves,
buffalo, turkey, and deer flourished in these rich environments.
Settlement brought many changes. Nearly all the prairie was plowed up.
Timber was stripped from the hills and valleys. Soil and gravel washed off the
cleared slopes into streams. Many of the large animal species were wiped out
by hunting and loss of habitat.
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Now, forests are growing back. Deer and turkey were reintroduced with great
success. A small black bear population is increasing. Many smaller mammals,
such as foxes, wildcats, raccoons, beaver, and coyotes are also co-existing with
people.
History tells us that the Ozarks is a special place with a rich natural heritage
that must be nurtured and cared for to thrive. Understanding the natural
environment and how human actions can impact it is an important lesson to
pass down to each new generation. Our hope is that after you experience these
special places first hand and work through the questions, you will learn posi-
tive actions to help protect the Ozarks for the next generation. Follow this
Guide to some of the best of the publicly held lands in the Ozarks, and join us
in exploring, enjoying, and protecting this great heritage.
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