A look at Hawn State Park’s unique biology and why it is important to Missouri’s natural heritage.
Hawn State Park is a Missouri state park located in southeastern Missouri near Sainte Genevieve. Hawn State Park started out as the project of a schoolteacher, a woman named Helen Coffer Hawn, from Sainte Genevieve who “sought to share the natural treasures around her with the public.” Ms. Hawn’s project was entirely self-funded and was based on purchasing bits and pieces of land over time, rather than buying one large expanse all at once. Over the course of Ms. Hawn’s time spent working on this project, she purchased nearly 1,500 acres and, upon her death in 1952, willed for all of this land to be transferred over to the state. Following Ms. Hawn’s death, the Missouri government maintained and even added more land to the collection she had gifted the state, officially opening Hawn State Park in 1955. As of today, “Hawn State Park totals nearly 5,000 acres,” and contains the 81-acre LaMotte Sandstone Barrens (designated a natural area in 1989), the 58-acre Pickle Creek (designated a natural area in 1979), the 30-acre Botkin’s Pine Woods (designated a natural area in 1981), and, while not connected to the rest of Hawn State Park, nor open to the public, the 120-acre Orchid Valley (designated a natural area in 1977).
While Hawn’s Pickle Creek is one of its smaller natural areas, it is also one of its, and even Sainte Genevieve’s, best examples of biodiversity. Pickle Creek is home to at least 20 different species of fish, including “fish from the prairie faunal region, as well as fish from the Ozark faunal region.” Because of this diversity among the species of fish found in the waters of Pickle Creek, this natural area is also considered a “transitional fish community composed of species spanning two regions.” Fish found in Pickle Creek that are from the prairie faunal region include “red shiner, sand shiner, and Johnny darter,” while fish that are from the Ozark faunal region include “bleeding shiner, Ozark minnow, rainbow darter.” Just from the names of these examples of fish, one could assume that the fish found in the waters of Pickle Creek are all quite small; while assumptions aren’t preferred over observation-based inferences, this assumption would be an accurate one, as, due to the shallowness of Pickle Creek’s waters, only small fish are able to prosper in Pickle Creek. Regardless of the size of the fish, the fact that so many different fish are able to coexist with one another in this one area is a biological outlier compared to the rest of Missouri.
Besides its abundance of fish species, Pickle Creek shares some similarities with another natural area of Hawn State Park, the LaMotte Sandstone Barrens, in that both areas are home to exposed ancient rock formations and host similar mossy plant life, such as mosses and lichens. The ancient rocks of Pickle Creek include “igneous rhyolite and granite rocks, as well as a small area of gneiss, a 1.5 billion year old metamorphic rock rarely exposed in Missouri” (all of which formed as a result of past volcanic activity), while the ancient rocks of the LaMotte Sandstone Barrens include just what its name says–sandstone (which formed as a result of previously being underwater). The rhyolite, granite, and gneiss of Pickle Creek, dated back to the Precambrian era (time prior to 600 million years ago), all outdate the oldest sandstone of the LaMotte Sandstone Barrens, dated back to the Cambrian era (time from 541 million to 485.4 million years ago), by at least 50 million years and, as a result of this, gives us a good idea of what the rock that underlies the LaMotte Sandstone Barrens’ sandstone looks like. The reason for this difference in age of the exposed rocks between these two relatively close natural areas has to do with the fact that, because Pickle Creek, obviously, contains water, the land surrounding Pickle Creek has been the target of intense erosion, while the dry LaMotte Sandstone Barrens were weathered away much less intensely.
Finally, “the forests and woodlands along Pickle Creek” boast very diverse plant and animal life. The plant life of these forests and woodlands include an assortment of flowers, trees, and mossy plants. The most common type of flower of these forests and woodlands are the rose azaleas, which begin flowering every spring. The tree species found in these forests and woodlands include trees common throughout Missouri, such as “white oak, shortleaf pine, and scarlet oak with flowering dogwood and low bush blueberry.” The real beauty of Pickle Creek’s forests and woodlands are the plants that are more commonly seen in “forests of the eastern U.S, including cinnamon fern, royal fern, partridge berry, rattlesnake plantain, hay-scented fern, ground pine, and smooth white violet.” There is also a conservation concern surrounding the latter three species, so their survival is also important to these forests and woodlands due to their statuses as “relicts of the Pleistocene glaciation.” The animal life of these forests and woodlands consists mainly of small birds, including “the pine warbler, summer tanager, blue-gray gnatcatcher, white-breasted nuthatch, worm-eating warbler, and black-and-white warbler,” as well as “[the] Louisiana waterthrush, Acadian flycatcher, or northern parula.” Since these small birds live in the forests and woodlands bordering Pickle Creek, and therefore the small fish that live in the creek, we can infer that the fish are the prey of these birds, contributing even more biodiversity to Pickle Creek, as well as information about the overall biological relationships between the animals of Hawn State Park.
In conclusion, Hawn State Park’s Pickle Creek is important to Missouri’s Natural Heritage and the overall learning experience of this class because it is home to a very diverse array of life in such a relatively small area. The most biologically astounding features of Pickle Creek are its “transitional fish community composed of species spanning two regions,” expanse of exposed ancient rock formations, and its diverse forests and woodlands. Pickle Creek’s “transitional fish community composed of species spanning two regions” factors into Pickle Creek’s overall importance because of its ability to showcase to ichthyologists the coexistence of many different fish species, giving them the chance to observe and study a variety of fish. Pickle Creek’s expanse of exposed ancient rock formations factors into Pickle Creek’s overall importance because it shows a large portion of the long geological history of the area and allows geologists to make inferences about what the area was like all those years ago. Finally, Pickle Creek’s diverse forests and woodlands factor into Pickle Creek’s overall importance because it gives botanists and wildlife biologists alike the opportunity to observe even more differing wildlife, some of which is uncommon for the area, and determine why some of the life that is within Pickle Creek is there in the first place. Regardless of the type of biologists each area would be most beneficial to for purposes of studying, anybody can still visit Pickle Creek to learn about its unique biology and witness just how important of an area it is to Missouri.
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