Points of Interest:
- See migrating waterfowl and shorebirds in spring and fall.
- View one of a few remaining marshes left in the Missouri River floodplain.
- Hear the calls of toads and frogs and rare nesting marsh birds in the spring.
- See overwintering bald eagles.
On July 3, 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped in the vicinity of the south side of this natural area. At that time the Missouri River flowed to the south and north of the natural area and the high ground of the natural area was an island. By 1850 the river had shifted westward and the old river course formed an oxbow lake named Short Creek Lake. In the 1870s the lake was renamed Bean Lake, its name today.
At the time of Lewis and Clark’s expedition the Missouri River floodplain north of Kansas City was a an ever-changing mosaic of bottomland forests and woodlands, bottomland prairies, sandbars, extensive marshes, sloughs, river islands, oxbow lakes, and a constantly meandering Missouri River. Since the late 19th century the Missouri River has been greatly changed for navigation and flood control and most of the river’s floodplain has been converted to row crops. While changes to the Missouri River have resulted in broad social and economic benefits, wetland natural communities and their fish and wildlife have declined greatly along its floodplain.
The high ground here consists of riverfront forest with cottonwood, sycamore, hackberry, and silver maple. In the spring look for good displays of white anemone in the forest floor. The low ground consists of Cottonwood Slough and the marsh. The slough typically has standing water and is lined with buttonbush and willows. In some years American lotus covers the open water in summer. Beavers typically utilize the slough. The marsh itself consists of thick stands of river bulrush mixed with a variety of smartweeds, arrowhead, cattail, shoreline sedge, and great bulrush.
Over 130 bird species have been seen here, and being along the Missouri River a great number of migratory ducks, geese, shorebirds, and warblers pass through here each spring and fall. Mallard, wood duck, northern shoveler, solitary sandpiper, and long-billed dowitcher have been noted during spring and fall migrations. Breeding birds include warbling vireo, common yellowthroat, great blue heron, yellow warbler, green heron, red-winged blackbird, and least bittern (a species of conservation concern). At dusk on warm spring days listen to the cacophony of western chorus frog, plains leopard frog, American toad, gray treefrog and Blanchard’s cricket frog calls. If you’re lucky you might even hear the great plains toad, the great plains narrow-mouthed toad or the plains spadefoot toad.
In addition to their wildlife benefits wetlands are very important as flood storage areas and they also filter out excess nutrients from fertilizers thus improving the water quality of associated streams. At Little Bean Marsh the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a study that showed the marsh to be an effective trap for fertilizer chemicals that create water quality problems.