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Health, Science, Environment

Need A Sunflower Backdrop For Summer Photos? Columbia Bottom Sets The Scene

One of the sunflower fields in bloom at Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area in July, 2021.
Kendall Crawford
/
St. Louis Public Radio
One of the 14 sunflower fields planted by the Missouri Department of Conservation is fully in bloom. The flowers were originally planted to attract mourning doves for the September hunting season but have become popular with visitors.

The sunflowers are back in bloom at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area.

This summer, people from all over the area can travel to north St. Louis County to snag a selfie with a sunflower. The fields, planted by the Missouri Department of Conservation, are prime for public viewing and photo-taking from mid-July to mid-August.

But the sunflowers are more than a perfect summer photo backdrop, said MDC wildlife management biologist Luke Wehmhoff.

“It’s an opportunity for folks to get outside and see these conservation areas for a gateway experience,” Wehmhoff said. “They come out to see the sunflowers, and it may open their eyes to a different part of the area they didn’t know was here, or it may entice them to come back and do something else in the area, like birding or hiking.”

Over a decade ago, the MDC first planted the sunflowers for a more practical purpose. The flowers attract migrating mourning doves to the area ahead of the hunting season.

“It just offers the doves stopover refuge, and then once Sept. 1 rolls around and dove-hunting season kicks in, it offers the public a hunting opportunity,” Wehmhoff said.

A sunflower beginning to bloom at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in July, 2021.
Kendall Crawford
A sunflower beginning to bloom at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in mid-July.

Now, the fields attract people as well as birds. Last year, more than 80,000 cars piled into the conservation area in July alone.

Bob Holden and Patty Hawkins traveled from St. Charles to see the sunflowers for the first time this summer. The immense fields gave Holden the opportunity to practice photography — a hobby for more than four decades.

“It’s a great place to be out in the sunshine and see what St. Louis has to offer,” he said.

Others like Stacie Eilers and Meredith Finkling are just sunflower enthusiasts. They visited on a recent weekday to spend time outdoors and get Instagram-worthy family photos.

“I think it’s awesome there are places in St. Louis like this that you can come and explore and bring your kids. It’s just awesome,” Eilers said.

In anticipation of another summer of sunflower-seeking visitors, the MDC planted more flowers and staggered planting times to extend the viewing season this year. Throughout the 4,300-acre area, there are 14 different sunflower fields.

 One field of sunflowers at Columbia Bottom Conservation is just beginning to bloom.
Kendall Crawford
One field of sunflowers at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is just beginning to bloom.

Visitors can come anytime from sunrise to sunset to see the golden fields at 801 Strodtman Road, just north of I-270.

All the department asks is that visitors not pick the flowers. The only souvenir you should bring home is a selfie, Wehmhoff said.

Follow Kendall on Twitter: @kcrawfish33

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