CARDAREVA STATE FOREST
Driving along the rural highways in southeast Missouri, travelers may notice an abundance of farmland. Amid this farmland though, near East Prairie, 1,029 acres of the area's original landscape has been preserved and stands out above the rest. This island of trees in a sea of agriculture is known as Big Oak Tree State Park.
Flood plains covered with giant trees that once greeted early explorers to the "Bootheel" region of the state have been preserved in Big Oak Tree State Park. Trees within the park are unsurpassed in the state for size, with six qualifying as state champions of their species and two registered as national champions. Beneath the trees lies a luxurious undergrowth of woody vines that flourish in the swampy land. Large baldcypress trees with their unique "knees" make their home in the park's cypress swamp, the only one of its kind in the state park system.
A boardwalk traverses through the park, providing access to the park's unique landscape. An interpretive center near the boardwalk provides educational displays explaining the natural history of the park. With more than 150 species of birds, several considered rare in the state, the park is a favorite with bird watchers. After a nature hike through the forest, visitors can enjoy a picnic lunch under the open shelter or at one of many picnic tables nestled beneath the lofty trees.
Big Oak Tree State Park is the last remaining piece of continuous hardwood bottomland forest that once covered the entire 'bootheel' of Missouri. A series of drainage canals facilitated the conversion of swamp forest into agriculture land. A visit to the park will allow exploration of the major habitats within the park. The major habitats include the bottomland forest, swamp forest and shrub swamp. It is easy to find the progressions between sections dominated by oak trees and areas dominated by bald cypress.
Big Oak Tree State Park is known as the park of champions. Several trees have the status of being state champions for their size. Champion trees are measured in girth, height and crown spread. These numbers are plugged into a formula that generate a point total. The points are then used to determine which nomination is the biggest, or champion, for that species. Big Oak Tree State Park currently has seven champion trees. The number of champions changes due to storm damage or the death of a tree. Two of the seven trees are national champions. One national champion, a persimmon tree is 132 feet tall. The average height for a persimmon tree is 60 feet.
Some of the wildlife that live in the park include deer, opossum, raccoon, mice, turtles, lizards and snakes. Although the park has a lot of water snakes, there has never been any verified and documented identification of any venomous snakes such as the cottonmouth (also known as a water moccasin). The park is in a great location for many bird species. Mississippi kites may be seen in the summer and bald eagles in the winter. Many migratory birds including warblers, ducks and geese may be seen during the spring and fall migrations.
A boat ramp provides access to the 22 acres of Big Oak Lake. The boat ramp is open all year, except during managed hunts. There are no launch fees.