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The Missouri River begins at Three Forks, Montana, and flows southeasterly for 2,300 miles before joining the Mississippi River a few miles north of St. Louis, Missouri. It ranks as the second longest and is one of the most famous rivers in the United States. It was the primary route of Lewis and Clark. The river shared with the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail the distinction of being one of the three main throughfares to the Far West. It was a wild and unpredictable river that carried millions of pounds of freight.
Waters of this mighty river are now harnessed in the upper and middle reaches by a series of multi-purpose dams and reservoirs. In its lower reaches, the Missouri River has been further tamed by channelization. The net effect of man's endeavors has been improved flood control and navigation, increased hydroelectric power generation, irrigation water, and the creation of new opportunities for outdoor rectreation. Those projects, however, have also eliminated most of the extraordinary esthetic, historic, and wildlife values associated with the river in its natural condition.
A 58-mile segment of the Missouri River from Gavins Point Dam, South Dakota, to Ponca State Park in Nebraska represents one of the few remaining reaches of this great river that is free from manmade structures and still offers an example of a free-flowing river in a relatively natural state. This reach of the river has been designated as a National Recreational River because of the outstandingly remarkable natural and cultural values in this reach which are worthy of preservation. These values include the river setting at Hog Island, the entrance of the James River and Missouri chutes paralleling Hog Island, the general bank shoreline forest dominated by cottonwood trees, clusters of sandbars, and the Nebraska wooded bluffs.
Preservation of backwater marsh areas, open sandbars, and forested areas will contribute significantly to the wildlife of the area. Waterfowl and other water birds use the marshes and sandbars. The interior least tern, a rare shorebird that nests on the sandbars is being considered for inclusion on the endangered species list. The bald eagle, a bird already on the endangered species list, uses the forested areas for winter roost sites and trees over-hanging the flowing water areas as feeding perches.
The physiographic features of the river, which include deep holes, shallows fast river current, stable river bottom, and shifting sand bottom, may be the last remaining production area for the paddlefish in the Missouri River down-stream from Gavins Point Dam. Preservation of the present river setting will give Americans the opportunity to see the river much as it has been throughout its significant history.
This plan has been prepared to guide the administration of the 58-mile reach of Missouri River from Gavins Point Dam, South Dakota, to Ponca State Park, Nebraska, as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Specifically, the plan will provide Congress conceptual management programs for the administration of the Missouri Recreational River. Additional advanced planning will be required to implement the programs identified in this management plan.