MDC Director Bob Ziehmer, left, presented Leo Drey with a plaque thanking the L-A-D Foundation for protecting Missouri forests and natural areas, during an April 26 picnic in Salem celebrating the foundation’s 50th anniversary.

Longtime conservationist Leo Drey and the L-A-D Foundation have been honored with a proclamation from the Missouri Department of Conservation, thanking them for protecting Missouri’s forests and natural areas.

Public appearances by Drey, 95, have been rare in recent years. But he took the stage last week to accept the award, delivered by MDC Director Bob Ziehmer during a picnic celebrating the L-A-D Foundation’s 50th anniversary.

The proclamation was signed by Missouri Conservation Commission Chairman Don Johnson.

Since 1962, when Drey and his wife Kay, St. Louis, founded the L-A-D Foundation, the organization has partnered with state agencies to provide public access to foundation lands, many of which contain unique and scenic natural features.

“The proclamation from the conservation department was a complete surprise. We on the foundation board didn’t know about it until they drove up,” said L-A-D Foundation President John Karel. “I’m delighted that

Leo and Kay were there to receive the award. I think it was the highlight of everyone’s evening.” The relationship “goes way back,” he said. “The

conservation department is one of our most longstanding partners.”

MDC manages seven state natural areas owned by the L-A-D Foundation, including three in Texas County along the Big Piney River. Dripping Springs is a north-facing sandstone and dolomite bluff with lush

vegetation, kept continuously moist by several small springs. Horseshoe Bend, northwest of Houston, encompasses some two miles of forested river frontage. The Piney River Narrows, west of Houston, is a hogback ridge between the river and Piney Creek with “exceptional dolomite pinnacles and associated bluff and glade flora,” according to “Directory of Missouri Natural Areas,” published by MDC.

MDC manages other L-A-D properties: Ball Mill Resurgence in Perry County, Clifty Creek Natural Bridge in Maries County, Hickory Canyons in Ste. Genevieve County and Rocky Hollow in Monroe County.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ division of state parks, administers three parcels of L-A-D land. Grand Gulf State Park, in Oregon County seven miles west of Thayer, features a huge collapsed cave roof that reveals a three-quarter-mile long, steep-sided chasm, with a natural bridge and cave. The Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry, along the Current River upstream from Round Spring, offers about 27 miles of hiking trail within a 60,000 acre segment of Pioneer Forest. Dillard Mill State Historic Site, located along Huzzah Creek west of Viburnum in Crawford County, features a picturesque old grist mill with intact machinery.

Drey’s land ownership in the Ozarks began in 1952 with the purchase of about 90,000 acres, mostly around Round Spring, bought from National Distillers Products. That company harvested white oak and manufactured whiskey barrels. Drey’s acquisitions for that landholding, known as Pioneer Forest, grew to more than 153,000 acres; he employed foresters who manage the land sustainably, practicing a form of uneven-age forest management that uses single-tree selection.

When Drey established the L-A-D Foundation, its mission was to protect properties with significant natural, cultural or geologic features. Another Drey project was Greer Spring in Oregon County, which he bought for the purpose of conserving it until the U.S. Forest Service had time to go through an appropriations process to obtain purchase funds. He sold it in a “bargain sale,” which was supplemented by a donation from Anheuser-Busch. The spring and adjoining land are now a part of the Mark Twain

National Forest.

In 2004, Drey retired from his role as active manager of Pioneer Forest. He and Kay donated 140,000 acres of Pioneer Forest to the L-A-D Foundation to ensure continuation of Pioneer’s past and current forest management practices into the future. Today the L-A-D Foundation oversees management of both the original L-A-D Foundation natural areas and Pioneer Forest. Drey remains chairman of the L-A-D board of directors, and Kay is secretary.

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