Thanks to my fiancée and her family, I am becoming acquainted with some wonderful parks and refuges in the vicinity of Leavenworth, Kansas and nearby areas across the river in Missouri. A recent visit at the end of January and beginning of February included an afternoon hike in Weston Bend State Park near Weston, Missouri.
Considering that our primary reason for this trip to Leavenworth was for the aftermath of a family tragedy, time spent in the quiet of a deciduous forest on bluffs overlooking the Missouri River was a perfect antidote to the stress surrounding funeral planning; and the cozy claustrophobia of too many well-meaning friends and family in one house.
The area has a rich history. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery reached the vicinity of Weston on July 4, 1804, reporting evidence of a Kansa settlement on the opposite bank of the river. The Kansa were one of several indigenous tribes that first occupied this region. The Lewis and Clark expedition returned two years later, finding fur traders navigating the Missouri.
Agriculture is the current industry here, with tobacco farming leading the way. The park itself even includes five old tobacco barns. One of these has been transformed into a covered shelter available for rent by park visitors.
Weston Bend is a relatively young state park, established in 1980 by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The amenities accommodate everyone from casual hikers to campers (traditional or RV) with hot showers, modern restrooms, and even laundry facilities available. The trails meander up and down ravines and along ridges. A lookout offers spectacular views of the Missouri River below, and five or six miles into Kansas on a clear day.
While human visitors are made to feel welcome, so are other creatures. The park is now recognized as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) by the National Audubon Society, part of the Iatan/Weston River Corridor, a very popular stopover for avifauna during spring and fall migrations. The annual ”Wings Over Weston” birding event will be held at the 1,133 acre park on May 12, 2012.
Park trails are well-marked, with ample ample signage interpreting the local fauna, flora, and historical elements that make the park unique. There are enough warm, or at least tolerably cool, days for one to experience the park at any time of year.
Even in the “dead” of winter one can spot a variety of birds, insects (like the green lacewing below), lichens, and fungi. In the absence of the animals themselves one can find signs of life like the chiseled holes left by Pileated Woodpecker; or the abandoned galls of wasps on oak twigs. Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) lends a colorful accent to even the dreariest of landscapes here.
I am already looking forward to coming back to Weston Bend State Park, when the forests and bottomlands are greener and even fuller of wildlife. Be sure to add the park to your own itinerary whenever you find yourself in Kansas City, St. Joseph, or Leavenworth. You will not be disappointed.