T he sun flo we rs of Columbia Bottom are back and ready for their audience.

After flooding left fields under water for all of May 2017, the sunflowers—as well as soybean and corn crops—were off schedule. Everything was running behind at the conservation area in north St. Louis County, set at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

But replantings and the absence of more flooding have put the sunflowers back on track.

“Everything is recovered from last year,” says Pat Behle, an administrative specialist at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area. “We’re in very good shape.”

Plantings are staggered so that the blooming begins by the end of June and lasts until about the middle of August. The sunflowers are a draw; calls have been pouring in to Columbia Bottom this summer to check on their status. “Barring a catastrophe,” Pat says, there will be plenty to see.

There’s more to Columbia Bottom than sunflowers, of course. Managed by the state Conservation Department, the area includes wetlands, forests, prairies, and croplands that attract a variety of resident and migratory wildlife, as well as more than 15 miles of trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. Fishing is available, as is river access for boaters. Visitors taking self-guided tours can stop at eight exploration stations with views of the surrounding habitats. Educational programs for student groups and individuals, workshops, and special events take place regularly. The visitor center includes exhibits and informational displays. A viewing platform overlooks the confluence.

There’s no charge for visiting the conservation area, which opens a half hour before sunrise and closes a half hour after sunset. Evening is a special time at Columbia Bottom.

“We have an unobstructed view of the sun setting,” Pat says. “And for the moonrise … if the timing is right, we can see the reflection of the moon on the confluence.”

That means that while the days are long, it’s possible to catch sunset and moonrise in the same evening visit. “When the weather is right, it can be absolutely stunning,” she says. No one can promise that conditions will be right on any particular night, though, or that the sunflower blooms will last. “You can never guarantee anything,” Pat says, “when you’re dealing with the weather and two huge rivers.”

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area • 801 Strodtman Road, St. Louis • 314-877-6014 • Nature.MDC.mo.gov