Katy Trail Nature Guide

Katy Trail Nature Guide

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A handy nature guide to answer all of those "What's That?" questions along the Katy Trail

"The Nature Guide for the Rest of Us!"

By Brett Dufur & Brian Beatte. Illustrated by Maggie ‘Woodwoman’ Riesenmy. ISBN: 1-891708-14-7. $16.95. 192 pages. 

An easy to use one-volume nature guide to everything you'll see while visiting the Katy Trail -- commonly seen birds, trees, wildflowers, fossils, turtles, vines, ferns, insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and more. Have you ever asked "What's that?" Then this book is for you!

Illustrated 4-season nature guide. Why lug around 12 of those heavy nature guides when you can find everything you need to know in one book! Identify trees, flowers, birds, animals, insects, butterflies, rocks, fossils, clouds, reptiles and footprints. 

This easy-to-use guide is the perfect outdoor companion. With more than 400 illustrations, it identifies the most commonly seen nature and wildlife along the Katy Trail and the Missouri River valley.

It includes geology, fossils, trees, wildflowers, vines, ferns, birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, cloud formations, animal tracks and more. Flora and fauna are categorized by color, size and peak sighting season.

This book also highlights seven spectacular nature trips to help you get started. Easy explanations, interested natural history, trivia and a complete glossary and index make this the perfect nature guide for every age and knowledge level.

"Finally! A nature guide for the rest of us! No other book does in one cover what this one will." -- Jim Denny, Missouri River Historian & River Rat

"Seven or eight handbooks rolled into one. It fills a wonderful niche for a person eager to explore the Missouri River eco-system. A biology field manual for the amateur to the professional." -- Hank Ottinger, Naturalist


Reviews of The Katy Trail Nature Guide

& River Valley Companion:

Finally! A nature guide for ‘the rest of us!’ No other book does in one cover what this one will... Jim Denny, Historian

Seven or eight handbooks rolled into one. It fills a wonderful niche for a person eager to explore the Missouri River ecosystem. A biology field manual for the amateur to the professional... Hank Ottinger, Naturalist

The River Valley Companion could easily have been titled ALMOST EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT AS YOU HIKE THE KATY TRAIL…BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK. The real truth is that you would have had to ask a lot of people with specialized training to get the information that is packed into this dandy little manual. I would certainly want one in my day-pack as I started my journey in this fascinating area of Missouri... H. Warrington Williams, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, Westminster College.

Going out to enjoy nature in your area, you could take along several books to help you identify flora and fauna, to warn you away from dangers and point out interesting history related to your excursion. Or, you could take this compact volume that answers a great many questions and offers several bonuses. It reviews the ways of the Missouri River, helps you "read" the sky, suggests good destinations, clothing for maximum comfort, how to take pictures and more. There's even a glossary of such words as "bract"-familiar, but perhaps not really understood.

As is characteristic of Pebble books, this one has a friendly eagerness to share everything readers might find interesting or useful. For instance, it not only pictures animal tracks, but also lists the colors different species' eyes reflect in light. There are first-aid procedures for snake bites and tips on releasing fish with the least possible injury to them.

Illustrations are by Maggie Riesenmy, who is of Cherokee descent. She gives us new respect for how many distinguishing details can be contained in black and white. The writing style is digestible by young people but not too simple for adults. Nature buffs will find much here to enjoy... Joan Gilbert, The Ozarks Mountaineer


Katy Trail Nature Guide Table of Contents


Introduction by Randal Clark
How to Use This Book
Missouri Map-Defining the Valley
Immersion in Nature
Getting Started
Reading the Mighty Mo
Types of Natural Communities
Rocks, Soils & Fossils
Trees & Shrubs
Flowering Plants
Vines, Canes & Rushes
Ferns & Related Plants
Insects & their Relatives
Reptiles & Amphibians



Frogs & Toads
Fishing Opportunities
River Access
Reading the Sky
Seven River Valley Nature Trips
Nature Photography
Sketching Nature
A Few Missouri Facts
Winter Notes
Suggested Readings
Additional Resources
Katy Trail State Park on the Internet
About the Authors & Illustrator

From the Author

How often have you been on a hike and asked, "What's that?" Here's a book to answer many of these questions. This book is a beginner's guide to nature. It includes useful information in a simple, easy-to-understand format. Everything has been researched, reviewed and edited to make nature identification as simple as possible. With over 400 illustrations, this book identifies the Missouri River valley's most common species and explains its diverse ecology, past and present.

The Missouri River valley-often called a basin, the river bottoms and the floodplain-is the region created by the meanders and cutting of the Missouri River. For this book, we limit our scope of the Missouri River valley within the state of Missouri. We define the river valley as all habitats along the Missouri River, from bluff to bluff plus five miles on either side of the floodplain.

Many species found along this valley are also found in other river valley ecosystems, so you will find this book a useful supplement in other areas as well. Beginning naturalists in other Midwestern states would also find this a useful reference.

Many of Missouri's other river valleys-such as the Mississippi, Meramec and Gasconade-also host many of the same species we highlight here. Missouri is bordered by more rivers than any other state. Can you name them all? They include the Missouri River, the Mississippi, the St. Francis, the Osage, the Ohio and the Illinois.

Within the state, the Missouri River travels more than 550 miles from the western slope at the junction of Kansas, Ohio and Missouri to its confluence with the Mississippi River in St. Charles. In addition to the many towns whose original growth was fostered by early river travel, Missouri's two largest cities-St. Louis and Kansas City-continue to thrive along the banks of the Big Muddy.

The Missouri River valley is Missouri's most largely undiscovered gem-in-the-rough. Many naturalists who travel to other states for a respite from the grasp of society would do well to rediscover all that this secluded natural corridor has to offer. It is accessible to more than two-thirds of the state's population in less than one hour, making it the prime place for many Missourians to enjoy nature.

Great places to enjoy the river valley are numerous. One of our favorites is the Katy Trail State Park, which winds over 225 miles from St. Charles to Clinton. In fact, it's America's longest rails-to-trails project, where an old railroad right-of-way was turned into a gorgeous hiking and biking path. The Katy Trail follows the Missouri River from St. Charles in the east to Boonville in the west before departing from the Missouri River valley and heading southwest to Clinton.

In addition to the Katy Trail, more than 70 conservation areas, 17 state parks and the Mark Twain National Forest border the Missouri River valley as well as 27 fishing accesses developed by the Department of Conservation. If you are looking for a great place to enjoy nature, you may be closer than you think. We've included seven nature trips and a complete listing of fishing accesses in the back of the book to give you a great start.

This book is very different from other nature guides being published today. On a walk through the woods, many questions often arise. For a long time, if you wanted to learn a little bit more about nature, you would have to arm yourself with at least half a dozen identification guides specializing in different types of plants or animals.

Obviously, these specialized reference books are truly the best way to learn a lot about a certain species or region. Yet, there are many more people who need just a little bit of information, a tidbit of trivia or a river valley companion to allow their interests in nature to flourish. This book was written with these people in mind.

This book is interactive. Once you find something in the wild, check it off your "life list" in the back. This is a handy way to remember what you have seen. Remember too that there are infinite numbers of natural features in the valley, so you are also likely to find something that is not in this book. Also, remember that nature has a way of confounding us with exceptions.

This book, like a good dog, hates being left behind when you go on a hike. The best way to learn more about nature is to get out there and experience it for yourself. Refer to these pages often to learn more about the nature around you. See you there!


Excerpted from The Katy Trail Nature Guide

By Brian Beatte and Brett Dufur. 

Copyright © 2008. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From the Introduction: The great river that gives Missouri its name has been called many things, Nishodse or Muddy Waters, River of the People with Big Canoes, the Big Muddy and the Mighty Mo. Whatever you call it, the Missouri River is undoubtedly one of the great river systems of the world.

The Missouri River is more than 2,300 miles long and drains one sixth of the United States. With its headwaters on the east face of the Rocky Mountains, near Yellowstone National Park, it flows across the Great Plains picking up millions of tons of sediment until it enters the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Beyond St. Louis, the Missouri controls the character of the Mississippi River system to the Gulf of Mexico. There have been strong arguments made that the Mississippi River should even be called a tributary of the Missouri River. If this were so, the Missouri would be the longest river in the world.

As rivers go, the Missouri River is relatively young. A child of the Ice Age, it emerged between 10,000 and 2 million years ago in the wake of the great Continental Glaciers. During this time, each spring and summer would bring wild floods and the river would rush along at the front of the melting glacier. This raging torrent carved the giant valley and massive bluffs that we see today. Eventually, the glaciers retreated to the north, leaving the river to trace their southernmost limits. As the glaciers receded, the landscape as well as the plant and animal communities along the river slowly changed from tundra to the more abundant flora and fauna we now enjoy.

Ten thousand years ago the Missouri River valley was a wild and beautiful thing. It was one of the most biologically productive and diverse places on earth. In the river was an abundant fishery with ancient species of sturgeon, paddlefish, catfish and many others. The river was a placid, braided stream with many channels and sandbars. Periodic flooding allowed the river to meander across its valley constantly creating and destroying channels. This annual process was ideal for wildlife and created great wetland areas that supported abundant waterfowl and shore birds. Great cottonwood forests covered the floodplains. Rich prairies were also found along the floodplain, bordered by immense upland areas. Old growth forests of oak and hickory could be found in these special places. In the forests and prairies could be found many buffalo, elk, deer, bear and a wide variety of other wildlife.

It was during this time that humans first appeared along the Missouri River. In this dynamic region they collected fish and shellfish, hunted great flocks of waterfowl and hunted the abundant wildlife in the forests and prairies. The Woodlands culture of Native Americans lived along the river from the time of Christ to about 1300 A.D. These people were the first to cultivate corn and squash in the fertile floodplain and they built many burial and ceremonial mounds alongside the river. Around 1300 A.D. the Missouri or Niutachi ("People Who Dwell at the Mouth of the River") moved into the area. This tribe lived beside the river at its mouth and in the area around Van Meter State Park. The river was their main source of food and transportation. The Osage, although a tribe that lived mainly in southwest Missouri, also lived with the Missouri tribe for a while near the river.

In the late 1700s Europeans began to trap fur and trade with the Native Americans along the river. The Missouri River was the major route for traders and settlers traveling west. Travel along the river was first by canoe, then keelboat and later steamboat. By 1900, railroads had become the preferred way to travel along beside the river. Towns, then cities, sprang up from east to west. Most of the bottomland forests, prairies and wetlands were quickly converted to cornfields. The Missouri River endured another series of massive changes after World War II when the upper part of the river was dammed to form lakes. For these dams, 755 miles of the cottonwood forest went under water. Along the lower part of the river from Sioux City downstream, the river was developed for navigation. The river was cleared, dredged, narrowed and straightened. The backwaters and oxbow lakes and marshes were filled with accumulated silt.

The impact of these dramatic changes has forever changed the Missouri River valley. The majority of backwater spawning and nursery areas for fish are today just a memory. Most of the sandbars used by shore birds have disappeared. Thousands of areas of lush bottomland forests, marshes and prairies used by the waterfowl and wildlife have been destroyed. In the last 100 years alone there has been a 50-90 percent decrease in many of the habitats along the river-the same habitats that support thousands of species of plants and animals. The buffalo, elk, wolf and bear were the first species to disappear. Several species of birds have disappeared as well and many others have become endangered. As the changes continue, many of the river's fish may soon follow. Recently, the Missouri River was declared one of the most threatened in the United States.

There is hope. Several conservation agencies are working on setting land aside and letting the river reclaim its ancient floodplain. We may never go back to the natural ecosystem of 200 years ago, but for the sake of our descendants we must manage the river valley so that we maintain and enhance the current biological diversity.

This is one of the first books to cover the entire natural history of the Missouri River valley. With the help of this book, you will be introduced to the natural history of one of the great river valleys of the world. It is my hope that you will have fun gaining a greater understanding of this special river valley and the abundance of natural features that it supports.