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Southern Missourians can learn from our neighbors and gain insight about our own landscape while enjoying a newly released documentary, “Karst in Perry County,” produced by former Quill reporter Denise Henderson Vaughn and sponsored by the Ozarks Resource Center, West Plains.

About an hour’s drive south of St. Louis, a broad, rolling plain extends 100 square miles across Perry County, and it’s dotted with thousands of sinkholes that lead to hundreds of caves. This is a classic karst landscape, and the documentary tells how this challenging terrain has led to innovation, consternation, and a controversy over a small fish. This video will be available free online after PBS station WSIU-Channel 8 in Cape Girardeau completes two broadcasts: 9 p.m. June 14 and 11:30 a.m. June 20.

“In the past, I thought of southern Missouri as the Ozarks’ premier karst area,” said Vaughn, Mountain View, “because here we can boast of places like Grand Gulf, Tumbling Creek Cave, our float streams, and the magnificent flows of Greer, Mammoth, and Big springs.”

Working for The Quill, Vaughn covered regional karst-related stories for decades. That journalism coalesced into her 2010 documentary, “Karst in the Ozarks,” featuring the above attractions.

“But then I discovered Perry County,” Vaughn said. With nearly 700 caves, including four of the state’s five longest caves, “it’s the king of karst,” she said.

On that county’s broad plain, only a few creeks carry storm runoff. Instead, vast sink basins funnel storm runoff directly to cave streams, and those streams are home to the grotto sculpin, a fish species found nowhere else on Earth.

The documentary tells how pollution - farm chemicals, trash, and sewage – had entered the cave streams and at times killed the sculpin, and it chronicles the controversy that erupted when U.S. Fish and Wildlife began the process of listing it as a federally endangered species.

The 18-minute Perry County documentary has already been presented at the National Cave and Karst Management Symposium, Missouri Natural Resources Conference, and the National Natural Areas Conference. It will be featured in a February 2022 story in the Missouri Conservationist magazine.

Vaughn produced the video in cooperation with Somewhereinthewoods Productions, Mountain View.

Funding was from the L-A-D Foundation, St. Louis, owner Pioneer Forest, headquartered in Salem, and the Ozark Resource Center.

“Karst in Perry County” can be viewed online starting June 21 via the L-A-D Foundation website, ladfoundation.org/perry-county-karst/. Its predecessor, “Karst in the Ozarks,” is available on YouTube.


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