FRANKFORD, Mo. -- Access to the north part of Ranacker Conservation Area has been temporarily closed so the Missouri Department of Conservation can install a new bridge over scenic Peno Creek.
The bridge will replace a low-water crossing that carries traffic along the north access road. The low-water crossing frequently becomes submerged when Peno Creek rises from heavy rains.
"The new bridge will provide more dependable access to the area, especially during heavy rains when the creek rises rapidly," said Mike Flaspohler, a MDC wildlife management biologist who serves as area manager for Ranacker Conservation Area.
The bridge-construction work is expected to be completed by March 15. It will then provide visitors with easier access into one of Northeast Missouri's popular outdoor recreational sites.
Ranacker Conservation Area -- about 5 miles south of Frankford off of U.S. 61 -- features more than 1,800 areas of timber, grasslands, agricultural areas and old fields characterized by narrow valleys with numerous rock overhangs.
The site attracts visitors year-round for camping, bird watching and hunting -- especially for deer, turkey, doves, squirrels, rabbits and quail.
The conservation area also features horseback riding by special permit, and it offers an unstaffed shooting range that's set up with 25-, 50- and 100-yard targets.
"A lot of folks use it," Flaspohler said. "It's a pistol range and a rifle range."
But the real star of Ranacker is Peno Creek, which cuts through the northern portion of the conservation area, providing more than a mile of stream frontage and fishing opportunities.
"Peno Creek is one of the highest-quality streams in Northeast Missouri," said Chris Williamson, a fisheries management biologist for the MDC, who noted that the stream is home to at least 40 species of fish. It is one of the few streams in Northeast Missouri that supports populations of both smallmouth bass and rock bass.
Williamson said the construction of the new bridge will benefit the creek's fish habitat.
"By removing artificial barriers, such as the existing low-water crossing, fish are able to complete their natural upstream and downstream movements, ensuring sustainability of their populations," he said. "Natural movement of sediment ensures quality in-stream habitats and stream function are maintained."
Flaspohler agrees that Peno Creek is a hidden gem within the confines of Ranacker Conservation Area.
"Peno Creek is recognized in this part of the state as one of our nicer streams," he said in an interview.
"It's a got a lot of rocky substrate and is not typical of north Missouri farm country where you've got a lot of erosion and a lot of mud. It's a really pretty little stream and has a lot of natural meanderings and has a fairly diverse aquatic community."
Area residents recognize the importance of Peno Creek. In 2007, the creek's watershed was designated an Aquatic Conservation Opportunity Area. It became a MDC "priority watershed" in 2011.
In 2013, a group of watershed landowners began working with the MDC, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Pike County Soil and Water Conservation District on a series of conservation efforts to reduce soil erosion and help protect the quality of the watershed. Those efforts included such steps as planting cover crops, installing fencing to keep cattle out of the creek and stabilizing the stream bank.
Ranacker Conservation Area came into existence after the Missouri Department of Conservation bought the site's original 716 acres in 1967 from Roy Ranacker, a local businessman. Subsequent purchases of adjoining land increased the site to its current 1,831 acres.
Flaspohler said Ranacker Conservation Area will remain open during the construction of the new bridge except for the shooting range, which will be closed until the new bridge is completed. While the north access road is shut down, visitors will have to enter from the south by way of county roads 48 and 50.