Lake Pomme de Terre
The Pomme de Terre River, major tributary to Lake Pomme de Terre, has a bit of Old World romance attached to its name. By some accounts, French explorer LaSalle gave the Pomme de Terre its name when he explored parts of the Ozark Plateau in 1682. While scholars dispute this claim, it is known that wandering French trappers and fur traders did explore a wide area that included this beautiful river in the early 1800s. They named the river for plants resembling potatoes that were found in abundance along its banks. Translated from the French, pomme de terre in English means apple of the earth. Botanists believe the plant in question was probably a type of potato bean (Apios Americana) which was used as a food source by the Indians.
In the 1820s, following trails blazed by the French, settlers from the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee began to arrive in the area, bringing their political traditions with them. They named their county Hickory in honor of their hero, Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson, and their county seat Hermitage in honor of Jackson’s Tennessee homestead of the same name.
The Pomme de Terre River served as the dividing boundary between arriving homesteaders and native Indians until 1835. Commerce in the form of agriculture, lead and zinc mining, and lumber production followed on the heels of the increasing number of white settlers. The lumber industry was naturally attracted to virgin stands of 350 year old post oaks and other mature trees that formed vast forests across the region. The area that became Hickory and Polk Counties featured a landscape that was rolling rather than steeply mountainous, and thus was more accessible than areas further south. It was also an area where the Osage Plains to the west met the forested and abundantly watered Ozark Plateau region, another feature which attracted emigrating settlers.
THE LAKE’S BEGINNING
The river’s future as an impounded lake took shape in 1938 when Congress authorized the Pomme de Terre Project as part of a comprehensive flood control plan for the Missouri River Basin. Due to government red tape and the intervention of World War II, project planning wasn’t initiated until 1947, and actual dam construction was delayed until 1957. Pomme de Terre Lake was completed in 1961 at a cost of roughly $15,000,000. At multipurpose pool level, the lake covers about 7,800 acres. During times of heavy rain, it can expand to more than 16,000 acres in fulfilling its primary objective of flood control for the Osage River Basin and the lower Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Lake Pomme de Terre has approximately 113 miles of winding shoreline.
POMME DE TERRE DAM
Pomme de Terre Dam is not a hydroelectric production facility. Rather than being a poured concrete structure, it is an earth and rockfill embankment which stretches well over a mile in length (7,240 feet) and stands 155 feet above the streambed. The dam’s central core of impervious, heavily impacted clay is virtually watertight, with an internal sand drain design that allows any water which does pass through to move safely out of the structure without causing internal erosion.
POMME DE TERRE STATE PARK
Pomme de Terre State Park provides an excellent base for experiencing both the lake’s emphasis on water-based recreation and the variety of on-shore activities which are available. The park consists of two distinctly different areas which total 735 acres. One parcel, on the Hermitage side of the lake, has 135 campsites, while the other, located on a peninsula on the Pittsburg side of the lake, has 132. With a total of more than 250, Pomme de Terre State Park has more campsites than any other state park in Missouri. Both campgrounds offer nearby beaches and fine swimming.
Picnic sites are scattered throughout the park and include playground equipment and pit toilets. Two established hiking trails meander through areas of preserved nature and provide many scenic views of the lake. In particular, the park’s south side trails provide visitors with an outstanding opportunity to witness each spring’s renewal of wildflowers and rich prairie grasses. There is also an interpretive trail to the ancient burial sites of Indian tribes who once occupied the area.
There are also eight other campgrounds conveniently located around the lake. Six are managed by the Corps of Engineers (Nemo Landing, Damsite, Outlet, Wheatland, Lightfoot Landing, and Pittsburg Landing), and two others (Quarry Point, operated by the Harbor Marina; and Highway 83 Campground, operated by Highway 83 Marina) are operated by marina concessionaires. (Contact information provided at the right of this article.)
Camping is a particularly strong feature at Lake Pomme de Terre. Special shelters at some picnic areas are popular gathering places for family reunions, retreats, and even the occasional wedding. If camping is not your style, there are resort accomodations all around the lake.
“It was primarily the family atmosphere in terms of the kind of recreation that goes on here that attracted us,” says Beth Bernard, who moved to the Pittsburg side of the lake from Louisiana with her husband Howard some years ago.
“We were impressed with how genuine and friendly the people here were, and with the quality of life. We liked the fact that many of the businesses associated with the lake are family owned and operated. We thought we would fit in here, and that’s turned out to be true.” Bernard now serves as president of the Pomme de Terre Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Pommey seems to attract the kind of people who are seeking the simpler pleasures,” she continued, “like picnicking, and family outings that can include extended camping, star gazing, hiking and nature walks, and of course, fishing and swimming. It’s just naturally peaceful here, without the hype and overdevelopment, and that makes it easy to really relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the lake. You can’t find a better place for a family gathering, or to just get away from it all for a few days.” On the other hand, Bernard pointed out, at Pomme de Terre, you’re still close enough to take in the sites and attractions at places like Branson, Springfield and Lake of the Ozarks.
Like most of its Ozark cousins, Lake Pomme de Terre is noted for its water quality and excellent fishing. Good strings of bluegill and channel cat are commonly taken, and it holds a reputation for being one of the best bass and crappie fisheries in the region. But in recent years, another species, the muskellunge, or muskie, has become a Pomme de Terre feature that sets it apart from the other lakes.
According to Beverly Noel, a Natural Resource Specialist with the Corps of Engineers project office at Pomme de Terre, the muskie is a big northern fish not normally found in lakes this far south. It was introduced to the waters of Lake Pomme de Terre in 1966 when the Missouri Department of Conservation began stocking selected lakes and reproducing muskie in hatcheries. Pomme de Terre is now regarded as the only lake in Missouri that offers true muskellunge fishing.
“After the success of the initial release of muskie back in the ‘60s, the Corps started working with the MDC and volunteers to enhance fish habitat and make it easier for them to flourish,” Noel reported. “Every year, we gather cedar trees, bundle them together and weight them, and then boat them to specific lake locations where they are placed beneath the surface to provide habitat for the fish.”
Called fish attractors, the locations of these cedar bundles are mapped and passed along to the growing numbers of avid muskie fishermen. The maps show not only where the attractors are located, but also the year they were put into the water. Fish locator maps can be obtained from the Corps’ Pomme de Terre office.
“The fishermen like to know where the new beds are because it lets them get a jump on where the new muskie activity will be. They give the fish an opportunity to hide, and the fishermen an opportunity to lose more of their jigs,” Noel concluded with a chuckle.
“They’re called the fish of 10,000 casts because they’re so hard to catch,” says Jeff Littlejohn (left), who fishes regularly for muskie with his fishing buddy Fred Saylor. Both men are associated with an organization called Muskie, Inc. which promotes muskie fishing with a calendar of events each year such as May’s “Muskie Mayhem” tournament. Muskie taken from Lake Pomme de Terre can weigh more than 30 pounds and reach over 45 inches in length.
“They’re a very predatory fish,” says Saylor. “They like to stay in places where they can ambush other fish. The bigger ones usually stay in the depths, but sometimes, in the spring, they’ll come up on the muddy banks to let the sun warm them up. You never know for sure what they’re going to do, and that’s what makes them so hard to catch. They’re notorious for following your lure all the way into the boat and then turning away at the last second.”
By all accounts, these big powerful fish put up a tremendous battle when hooked, requiring all a fisherman’s skills to get one into the boat. According to MDC literature, the muskie is so aggressive when it strikes, the lure it is trying to hit will sometimes be thrown out of the water, and the muskie’s fierce behavior can unnerve even the most experienced fisherman.
Pomme de Terre’s year round fishing, abundance of desirable campsites, and peaceful atmosphere aren’t the only features visitors find attractive. Boating on the lake, including water skiing, personal water craft and along-the-shore tubing, are popular pastimes, and may be enjoyed without the crowded conditions common at other lakes. Canoeing is still popular on the upper reaches of the Pomme de Terre River, the only river in Missouri which flows north. For the vacationer who likes to combine golf with lake activities, the Pomme De Terre Golf & Country Club, near Wheatland, is open year round for public play.
Lake Pomme de Terre’s evocation of French legend and native American history combines with today’s naturally peaceful and unspoiled conditions to create an ideal setting for a day visit or an extended family campout. It’s the kind of place you may not have heard much about, but once you experience it, you’ll find yourself wanting to return again and again.
Also above left, Jeff Littlejohn bagged a 43" Muskie in the catch and release waters. (Photos courtesy of Pomme de Terre Lake Area Chamber of Commerce)
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Pomme de Terre Project Office
Rt. 2, Box 2160; Hermitage MO 65668
Pomme de Terre Lake Area
Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 36; Hermitage, Mo. 65668
Pomme de Terre State Park
HC 77, Box 890; Pittsburg, Mo. 65724
417-852-4291 (Pittsburg section)
417-745-6909 (Hermitage section)