Prairie Slough Conservation Area is in Pike and Lincoln counties, near Elsberry. The area consists of 584 acres, including 463 acres of bottomland timber and 121 acres of open land and sloughs. The Conservation Department purchased the majority of the area in 1979 and added a small parcel to the area in 1985.
Prairie Slough, from which the area takes its name, was a chute of the Mississippi River at the turn of the century. The majority of the area was on the east side of the chute and was an island. Natural river meandering and man's efforts have combined to shift the river flow away from the chute, resulting in a slough, a body of water blocked from the river on the upstream end, except during periods of flooding.
Prior to its purchase by the Conservation Department, the area was a fee fishing area, known as Prairie Slough Fishing Paradise. The 1985 purchase added Deer Slough. Several smaller natural sloughs are also located on the area.
The area makes available for public use approximately three-fourths of a mile of frontage on Prairie Slough and another three-fourths of a mile of frontage on Deer Slough.
Two emergent marshes near the main entrance to the area maintain water throughout much of the year, providing habitat for birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals that require water to be available throughout most of their life cycle.
Wintering bald eagles use the area and ospreys and Mississippi kites have been observed here during their migrations. Rose turtlehead, a state endangered plant, has also occurred here.
The timbered portion of the area consists of old growth bottomland hardwoods shifting to a community dominated by more flood tolerant overstory species. Common trees include pin oak, bur oak, ash, pecan, cottonwood, hackberry, silver maple, honey locust, and persimmon.
A 406-acre Natural Area located here protects the bottomland forest, backwater sloughs and shrub swamp natural communities. Shellbark hickory and pin oak trees, some as much as three feet in diameter and 80-110 years old, dominate the natural area forest. Shrub swamp occurs in the sloughs and other depressions, where surface water is present much of the time.
Buttonbush and Ward's willow occur in clumps or dense patches separated by bare soil or open water. Within the island complex, many small backwater sloughs are located in deep depression areas. Prairie Slough and Deer Slough contain permanent water, which fluctuates with the river level elevations.