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Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee Map of State Parks: Big Oak Tree State Park, Missouri

The Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee has issued an interactive map that directs you to the state parks along the Upper Mississippi between Minneapolis and the Ohio River.

Big Oak Tree State Park, Swampeast Mo, North of New Madrid

The last, The Big Oak Tree State Park, is in the Missouri Bootheel, aka Swampeast Missouri. It sits at the foot of the New Madrid Floodway, a region set aside after the flood of 1927 as a flood storage area just south of the Ohio River. Come flood time the floodway would withhold floodwater from the Mississippi until the big river could handle it. A gap at the foot of the floodway allows the Mississippi to back up into the region. Come a really big flood, the Corps of Engineers would blow a hole at the head of the floodway to enlarge the floodplain of the Mississippi and allow floodwater to flow through.

Big Oak Tree State Park is a thousand-acre bottomland hardwood forest, eighty of which are in virgin timber. It is a relic of the 25,000,000 acres of forest that once covered the Lower Mississippi Valley.

In 1938 local residents of Mississippi County, Missouri, who call their region Swampeast Missouri, rescued the thousand acres in the 132,000-acre floodway from logging and draining. The park safeguards the largest tract of uncut bottomland hardwood forest in Swampeast, where once more than two million acres stood. There are nine state and national champion trees, each with a canopy 120 feet tall.

Big Oak Tree State Park, Swampeast Mo

The swamp provides habitat to 150 species of birds, forty-four species of fishes, and thirty-one species of reptiles. The National Park Service designated Big Oak a National Natural Landmark in 1986.

The network of drainage channels that make farming in the New Madrid Floodway possible have dehydrated the wetlands in the park, stressing them. Balancing the needs of the park with the needs of the residents of East Prairie, the closest town of any size, and the surrounding region was part of the controversy surrounding the Corps’ St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project. The park needed more trees on more acres and a sure source of water, if the gap in the levee were to be closed.

A 2005 survey of the what trees grew where broke communities into four zones: Below 290 feet above sea level, the cypress and shrub swamp, 583 acres, is flooded throughout the year except in cases of extreme drought. Between 290 and 291 feet, stands of cypress and hardwood or cypress and cottonwood, 193 acres, are flooded most of the growing season most years. Between 291 and 292 feet, stands of overcup oak, sweetgum, red maples, green ash, and sugarberry are seasonally flooded, particularly early in the growing season. Above 292 feet stands of bottomland hardwoods are temporarily flooded every eleven to fifty years out of a hundred.

Learn more about Big Oak Tree State Park and the New Madrid Floodway in The Mississippi: A Visual Biography.


One Response

  1. […] the same plan in June 2002, but added the construction of the wildlife corridor between Big Oak Tree Park and the Ten Mile Pond conservation area and riparian buffers along sixty-four miles of streams and […]

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