LaBarque Creek Conservation Area comprises rugged, forested hills and steep, narrow valleys, canyons, bluffs and shelter caves carved into St. Peter sandstone. At least 54 species of fish have been identified in the creek and this diversity is almost three times greater than that of any of the 15 other tributaries of the Meramec River below LaBarque Creek. A variety of unique natural communities, such as sandstone glades, cliffs and seeps, exist in the watershed. Many migratory bird species breed in the area, including wood thrush, Acadian flycatcher, Eastern wood-pewee, worm-eating warbler, ovenbird, yellow-throated vireo, summer tanager and great-crested flycatcher.
Just an hour west of downtown St. Louis is a different world that seems far removed from the city. These hills forming the watershed of LaBarque Creek conserve a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial life. LaBarque Creek supports 36 native fish species, including five native darters, making it the most diverse tributary to the Meramec River in the St. Louis area. Some of these colorful fishes indicative of good water quality include the rainbow darter, bleeding shiner and southern redbelly dace. Terrestrial natural communities range from desert-like sandstone glades with prickly pear cactus juxtaposed in close proximity to moist box canyons harboring species more common in Missouri during the last Ice Age, such as fir clubmoss and Forbes’ saxifrage. Both sandstone and dolomite outcrop here leading to the development of highly acidic soils to those nearly neutral in pH. This wide range of soil acidity levels means that there are many different niches for native plants. Some tolerate nutrient-poor acid soils such as the low bush blueberry while others such as green violet require base-rich, low acidity soils. Today Conservation Department staff are restoring the glades and woodlands using a combination of prescribed fire and thinning. In the spring look and listen for the blue-gray gnatcatcher and summer tanager in the dry woodlands high in the landscape. Down in the rich forested ravines you might spot an Acadian flycatcher or hear the song of the wood thrush. Along the creeks be on the lookout for the northern parula. Up on the wooded hills red-eyed vireos can be heard through the summer months.