Letourneau Woods

 

Thank you, ďMiss Frances,Ē for this old-growth bottomland forest

 

 

Imagine an 870-acre forest of great trees rising out of a flat, seemingly endless sea of soybeans and corn. A forest of swamp white oak, willow oak, pin oak, sycamore, cottonwood, sweet gum, pecan, the occasional bald cypress, tupelo and more. Trees up to four feet in diameter whose crowns rise up to 100 feet above the alluvial floor.

This place, the Letourneau Woods, exists in Fulton Countyís Mississippi River floodplain. For years the property was under the watchful eyes of Mrs. Frances Emerson Letourneau (friends called her ďMiss FrancesĒ) and her husband, Charland. Woe to the logger who knocked on her door seeking to profit from the value of her hardwoods because she or her tenants would send them packing.

However, her cautious protection has come to fruition. Last December, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (with financial assistance from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited and the Kentucky Audubon Society) acquired the woods for approximately $1.8 million. It is now the southwestern anchor of the 3,521-acre Obion Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Officials bought the woods from Gay and Reggie Harper. The Harpers were close friends and neighbors of the Letourneaus, and took care of the couple in the declining years before their deaths.

The forest is home to myriad wildlife, but birds predominate. Depending on the season, the woods provide habitat for up to 100,000 ducks, including wood ducks, black ducks and mallards. Rare Cerulean warblers, Prothonotary warblers and Swainson's warblers use the forested habitat for nesting and feeding sites as do yellow billed cuckoo, yellow throated warblers, summer tanagers and more common woodland songbirds.

Typically, water covers the forest floor during winter and spring. This seasonal flooding keeps the floor of the woods relatively open. Walking is easy during the summer months if you donít mind mosquitoes, poison ivy, humidity and the occasional cottonmouth. Fall is probably the most comfortable time to visit when frost has killed back the greenery and most of the mosquitoes are gone. It is also fun to visit when the water is up and transportation is a boat piloted by a good guide.

It's good to know that we have such places in Kentucky where deer, fox, bobcats and turkeys can forage when itís dry, and otters, muskrats, waterfowl and shorebirds can feed when itís wet. It's particularly satisfying to know the woods are protected. Future generations can visit the area and see what our great waterways looked like when the pioneers arrived. For this stewardship, we thank you Miss Frances!

 

 

Getting There.

 

The Letourneau Woods is located approximately 4.8 miles northeast of Hickman on Upper Bottoms Road. Currently access is limited to department personnel and so the big trees are best viewed from afar from the Lauren E. Schaaf tract of the Obion Creek WMA. Current plans call for construction of a right-of-way and parking area on the west side of the woods, but this is not planned for completion until 2002.

 

Art Boebinger is the public land coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.