General Watkins Conservation Area is in Scott County, 14 miles north of Sikeston and 15 miles south of Cape Girardeau. The area can be reached from Highway 61 and Highway 77 and from county gravel roads. The Conservation Department purchased the tracts comprising the 1,108-acre area between 1978 and 1997.
The area is named for a famous Missouri statesman and Civil War general, Nathanial Watkins, who lived here and is buried in a small cemetery in the forest.
General Watkins Conservation Area contains a forest type more closely resembling Appalachian than Missouri forests. Sweetgum, American beech, cucumber tree and tulip poplar are found here, along with tree species more common to Missouri, like white and red oak, maple, hickory and walnut. This mesic beech-oak forest type has spicebush, dogwood and paw paw growing in the shrub layer. The ground layer is dominated by Virginia creeper and poison ivy and also includes Christmas fern, broad beech fern and the state-rare beech drops and Virginia pennywort. Beech drops are brown-purple and grow only in beech forests; they are parasitic on beech roots. The pale green pennywort has pale lilac flowers in early spring but is difficult to find being only a few inches tall.
Natural erosion has worn steep-sided canyons up to 50 feet deep through the area's loess soils. People walking near these canyons should be cautious. During your visit to General Watkins Conservation Area, you may view various forest management practices designed to improve wildlife habitat, maintain watershed quality and enhance tree growth, quality and species composition.
Wildlife management practices on Conservation Department lands include planting fields to serve as food sources for animals and the periodic harvest of timber to perpetuate the forest community and improve forage and cover for wildlife.