In 1890 the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers was a maze of islands and sloughs, many of which have become attached to the mainland.
On Monday the St. Louis County Planning Commission approved, unanimously, the rezoning of a 377-acre site in Spanish Lake, Missouri near the end of the I-270 bridge over the Mississippi. This the first step in a long list of hoops the construction of a casino and entertainment complex on site will have to jump through. I figure the complex will go near the top of Wilson Island Bend on the map.
It will be huge and include a casino, convention center, a theater, hotel, sports bar, buffet, stores, and 18-hole golf course, a wind farm, and paving for 8,000 parking spaces and will be adjacent to the Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area. The developer is Pinnacle Entertainment of Las Vegas, which also owns a complex at Lemay south of St. Louis.
Columbia Bottoms has a long history.
French traders from New Orleans, Pierre Laclede and August Chouteau, establish St. Louis in 1764 ten miles south of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers shortly after the French handed Louisiana over to the Spanish. Four years later Spanish troops built a fort in the uplands, overlooking the confluence. The area became known as Spanish Pond. Today, both the uplands and Columbia Bottoms lie in the suburb of Spanish Lake.
Jacques Marcellin Ceran de Hault de Lassus de St. Vrain immigrated to America in 1794, settled at Spanish Pond, and purchased large tracks of land on the bottoms. He died in 1818, but even in 1868, fifty years after his death, Pitzman’s plat map of St. Louis County shows J. de St. Vrain owning much of the land on Columbia Bottoms, the floodplain at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
In the years before the Missouri Department of Conservation purchased 4,314 acres on the bottoms in 1997, what wetlands existed had been drained and turned over to agriculture. A flood protection levee kept out all by the biggest floods. The biggest flood, the Flood of 1993, overtopped the levee and washed in sand and debris.
The Department of Conservation has begun to restore what were once cornfields into a mosaic of shallow wetlands, bottomland forests, prairie, and croplands, all designed to attract resident and migratory wildlife.
In 2002 the department began constructing roads, a river access, hiking trails, and a viewing stand at the confluence to attract people to the refuge. The department allows hunting, fishing, and trapping during the proper seasons and with proper permits.
Hiking trails lace the refuge. In some cases, hikers have to share the trails with bikers. However, the best, those along the Missouri River are for hikers only. Then there is the unofficial trail to the right of the paved trail as you approach the viewing platform. It goes along the Mississippi, far enough to see the tip of Duck Island, where Bald Eagles nest. Have a look: you will find the nest in the tree at the very tip of the island.
For more information on Columbia Bottoms and the riverlands near St. Louis, go to TwoTankTours.com and download the Riverlands tour, which includes information on Horseshoe Lake State Park, Riverlands, Dresser Island and other places. The cost is $7.
An 8,000 car parking lot next to a wildlife refuge? A wind farm next to a wildlife refuge? Do birds and wind mix? Airplanes and birds don’t mix, so how do birds and windmills mix? A casino next to the Confluence of our two great rivers? What if we have a repeat of 1993? It’s possible. Of course it will all be behind tall levees, so why have it on the river at all?