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About the River

History

This region was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when the U.S. purchased nearly 525 million acres of land from France. Since that time, the Missouri River has developed as a cultural and economic vein of the nation, providing inland access along the longest river in the U.S. Combined with the Mississippi River, the Mississippi–Missouri River System provided over 12,000 miles of navigable waterways that played an integral role in the economic development of the region. Even today, the river system provides a means for transporting nearly 300 million tons of goods every year.

The Missouri River was first explored by Lewis and Clark at the beginning of the 19th Century, and was later experienced by the masses with the availability of the steamboat. This new form of transportation allowed many people to travel to the West in the early and mid-1800s, though the Missouri River itself was often difficult to navigate because of muddy waters.

In 1853, the Steamboat Arabia was built, and it soon began traveling the Missouri River. Its first trip up the river was to transport soldiers from Ft. Leavenworth up to Ft. Pierre; it then continued another 700 miles up to Yellowstone, which took almost three months. But in 1856, the Arabia hit a snag (typically a fallen tree trunk) in the water and quickly sank. Artifacts from the passengers' luggage has since been discovered and restored for display in the Steamboat Arabia Museum located in the City Market in downtown Kansas City, Mo. 

 

Recreation

Today, the Missouri River valley is home to one of the country's first wine districts, the present-day central region of Missouri; the Missouri River flows through 265 miles of that region. The old railroad right-of-way along the river has been converted into a bike path called the Katy Trail, where locals and visitors enjoy wineries, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, hiking and cycling along the river.

MO River 340

This summertime event is a nonstop canoe/kayak race along the Missouri River from Kansas City, Mo., to St. Charles, Mo. As its title suggests, the race is 340 miles long, with 88 hours allotted to complete the race. There are checkpoints along the way where race competitors are required to sign in. The race is so challenging that about a third of the competitors are unable to finish.

Berkley Riverfront Park

This 17-acre park, located on the south bank of the Missouri River and on the north side of downtown Kansas City, Mo., was opened in March 1999. The park hosts many outdoor events, including KC River Fest, music festivals, corporate walks and watch parties for various river events, such as the MO River 340.

Riverfront Heritage Trail

This 10-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail connects parts of urban Kansas City, including Berkley Riverfront Park; Downtown Kansas City, Kan.; City Market and the Westside neighborhood. Many historic areas can be found along the trail, including Case Park lookout, where Lewis and Clark surveyed the Missouri River during their 1804 expedition.

Access points for the river in metro area:

  • Leavenworth Riverfront Park, Leavenworth, Kan.
  • Kaw Point, Kansas City, Kan.
  • English Landing, Parkville, Mo.
  • E.H. Young Riverfront Park, Riverside, Mo.
  • Berkley Riverfront Park, Kansas City, Mo.
  • La Benite Park, Sugar Creek, Mo. (also connected to Liberty Bend Conservation Area)

Canoeing and Kayaking

The Missouri River provides a unique experience for visitors to canoe and kayak, with a front row seat to the Lewis and Clark Trail that runs along the river. Today, everyone can enjoy the same view along Lewis and Clark’s road to the west by interacting with the river in a boat, canoe, or kayak. Rocheport, MO has many of these activities, and is a great access point for activities along the river.  


Wildlife

Shorebirds: Least tern and piping plover

These shorebirds depend on the Missouri River for nesting habitat to breed and raise their young. They nest along the river, preferring sparsely vegetated sandbars.

The reservoirs created by the large dams along the river have drastically altered the character of the river and the habitat of these birds. These disruptions reduce the habitat available for the birds, and provide hiding places for predators, particularly around sand and gravel mines.

Bald eagle

Historically, this bird has nested along large rivers in Missouri, including the Missouri River. Although most eagles today breed mainly in Alaska and Canada, there are over 150 active nests in Missouri, where these three- to four-foot-tall birds can be found high in the trees above the river.There has been a growing number of bald eagles since the 1970s, a result of reintroduction to their Missouri habitat and a ban on harmful pesticides. Bald eagles can be seen in Missouri during the winter along the river.

Freshwater mussels

There are roughly 65 species of mussels that live in Missouri waters at the bottom of rivers and streams. They are good indicators of water quality because they can live up to 100 years, rarely move and are very sensitive to changes in water condition.

Freshwater mussels in Missouri have declined significantly in population due to overharvest, unstable habitat conditions and the introduction of non-native mussel species. The Asian clam and Zebra mussel are two non-native species that compete for food and habitat, and reproduce easier than the Missouri species.

Paddlefish

Also known as the Spoonbill, this fish has a long paddle- or spoon-shaped rostrum that extends about one-third the length of the fish's body. Instead of bones, this fish has hard cartilage, and it can grow to weigh nearly 100 pounds.

This fish is native to the Missouri, Mississippi and Osage river basis, and is listed as both a sport and commercial fish in Missouri. However, dams, water-quality issues and illegal harvests of adult paddlefish have threatened the survival of the species. The Missouri Department of Conservation maintains paddlefish fisheries in order to protect the fish's future survival and to maintain it as a trophy sport fish.

Sturgeon

There are three species of sturgeon in Missouri: shovelnose, pallid and lake. Pallid and lake sturgeons are rare and endangered, and in an effort to protect these species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in October 2010 that shovelnose sturgeons should be treated as threatened because of their similarities in appearance.

The two main reasons that sturgeon populations have drastically declined are overharvest and habitat loss. Sturgeon eggs are used to make caviar, and between 1998 and 2001, commercial harvest increased over 1000 percent because of a decline in the Russian caviar supply. Channeling the river for barge traffic and developing flood control and navigation mechanisms has resulted in habitat loss.