MOUND CITY, Mo. — Even with its well-known reputation as the home of wetlands favored by waterfowl, Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge still is being severely battered by flooding.
The wetlands are acting like a sponge, soaking up and temporarily storing the excess water. It will take time for those levels to completely disappear. That sort of a process will be one indicator of normalcy’s return.
Off and on over five weeks this year, the flood has forced officials to close down a 10-mile auto tour to visitors. Eight of those miles remained underwater at some point this year.
Those conditions meant lost revenue for an area heavily dependent on tourism relayed by those who enjoy waterfowl and other wildlife frequenting the refuge, although traffic is usually slow for the summer months.
“It’s washed away a lot of our gravel,” said Lindsey Landowski, the refuge’s manager. The loss of gravel leaves behind mud and muck that can easily trap cars along the route, she said.
“We had to make it passable,” she said, referring to an initial amount of gravel delivered to the refuge that has helped with repairs. “We’ll be working on the roads for the next month.”
Landowski said the closure of both directions of Interstate 29, and the partial closing of U.S. Highway 159, impacted the refuge by shutting down visitor traffic, despite the facility remaining open.
Mort Nelson, who volunteers at the refuge, said another indication of the fallout can be discovered just by reviewing the numbers at the Nature Shop. Up until last Tuesday, the shop had been open for 118 days, he said, contrasted by the 142 days it was open last year.
Nelson added that shop sales grossed $1,090 for the first six months of the year. The shop grossed $2,567 during the first six months of 2018.
He said some of the volunteers themselves have had problems reaching the refuge, including wildlife students from Missouri Western State University.
“We’re unable to make a lot of our events, or several of the things that we planned,” he said.
Water control structures and levees at the refuge also took a beating and will need renovations that most likely won’t see completion until 2020. The banks of Davis Creek are being eroded, posing another threat to the auto tour. Five inches of sediment were deposited atop a bridge.
And the unusual circumstances also have turned Loess Bluffs’ habitat a bit upside down, with some species arriving due to the proximity of the Missouri River, while others that are endemic are returning now that the waters are abating.
“We found a lot of snakes and frogs,” said Landowski. “We’re starting to see turkeys again.”
Geese that typically call the refuge home for one-and-a-half months only stayed several days. But they have now come back.
Visitors were also unable to see a nesting pair of bald eagles due to the closing.
Several endangered massasauga, a species of rattlesnake, have appeared on the refuge. Standing water is killing off trees, and invasive types of grass are encroaching upon those native to the area.
“It’s a constant battle,” Landowski said.
Staff also will have plenty of work to do in removing debris that includes logs and fuel tanks. Construction equipment used for flood repairs is also requiring maintenance, which funding assisted along with paying for the allotment of gravel.
Refuge officials are optimistic they can ready the facility in time for the popular fall waterfowl migrations, which gains steam in October and November. It’s hoped more flood relief funds will become available soon, Landowski said, but that money may not appear until next year.
A garden that grows milkweed for monarch butterflies is off schedule due to the flood. Nelson said there’s a chance the plantings can occur in the fall.