Ozark Outdoors

Schnell-Osage Wetland approved for major improvements

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A flock of ducks descends on Duck Creek Conservation Area near Nevada, Mo., during a winter migration rest stop. The wetlands will soon get a major upgrade from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

NEVADA, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is planning major improvements to levees and water supply for wetlands and a lake at the Schell-Osage Conservation Area. New levee placement and design will reduce damage from flooding, saving costs in the long run and providing better water management for wildlife habitat in marshes. Fish habitat and angler opportunities will be improved for Schell Lake. A new pump station to draw water from adjacent Truman Reservoir will enable water levels to remain more stable in Atkinson and Schell lakes, which will also benefit fishing.

The project is currently scheduled to begin early in 2018 with a drawdown of Schell Lake, said Frank Nelson, MDC resource scientist and wetland ecologist who is co-manager for the project. The project will cause a temporary shutdown of waterfowl hunting in the wetland pools in 2018 and possibly in 2019. But when the project is complete, near the current number of hunting blinds will be available. The changes will also provide better food and resting areas on the waterfowl refuge portion of the area for migrating ducks, geese and shorebirds.

Schell-Osage Conservation Area opened for public use in 1962 and is one of MDC’s oldest managed wetland areas. The 8,633-acre area borders a section of the Osage River and straddles the line between northeastern Vernon County and southwestern St. Clair County in west central Missouri. Wildlife management includes upland areas with forest, woodland, native grass restoration, a small prairie remnant, old fields and crop fields. But wetland habitat and waterfowl hunting are also key components.

Wetlands provide valuable fish and wildlife habitat. They help filter and store water that feeds groundwater and streams. Wetlands are also valuable for outdoor recreation such as hunting, birding and photography.

Major flooding through the years has caused repeated and expensive damage to levees and wetlands at Schell-Osage, Nelson said. The original levees for managing 1,425-acres of wetlands in six pools were built largely on straight north-south lines. Included in Pool A is Barber Lake, a shallow Osage River oxbow. Schell Lake at 355 acres includes much shallow water on the west end. Construction of Truman Lake in the 1970s placed Schell Lake and the wetlands in Truman’s flood pool.

Plans call for re-alignment of the levees to better follow the natural topography and hydrology, Nelson said. Levee design will also be more gradually rounded. Both steps should reduce flood damage. A new pump station drawing water from the Osage River, essentially the upper end of Truman Reservoir, will eliminate the necessity for drawing water from Schell Lake and Atkinson Lake to serve wetlands.

Schell Lake will be reduced in length on the west end. But the remaining lake will be deeper, fishing jetties will be added for anglers, and fish habitat will be added to the lake bed. The old shallow end of the lake will be merged with the wetland units.

Nelson anticipates that many of the current hunting blinds will remain in the same location upon completion of the project. But some may be moved depending on levee placement.

Most of the fish in Schell Lake will be flushed out as the lake drains. But there will likely be a fish salvage opportunity at a future date.

In 2004, MDC kicked off a Golden Anniversary Wetlands Initiative to make improvements on the state’s five oldest wetland management areas, including Fountain Grove, Duck Creek, Montrose, and Ted Shanks. Schell-Osage is the last wetland on the list to receive renovations. In the coming year, MDC will be working on engineering designs, seeking permits and soliciting construction bids for the project. A final cost is not yet available. MDC is seeking federal wildlife grants to assist with costs and working with key conservation partners such as Ducks Unlimited.

Updates and links regarding the project’s progress and recreation access during construction activities will be posted on the area website. For information, visit https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places/schell-osage-ca.

For information about other MDC conservation areas and outdoor opportunities, visit http://mdc.mo.gov.

Photo: MDC is planning improvements to wetlands and Schell Lake at the Schell-Osage Conservation Area. A new pump station, realigned levees and new water control structures will provide better habitat for waterfowl all wildlife that utilizes wetlands.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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