Frank Loncarich is looking over his shoulder. And, he's looking back a very long way—175 years or so, to be exact.

Frank Loncarich is looking over his shoulder. And, he's looking back a very long way—175 years or so, to be exact.

Loncarich, a lands management specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, is researching through old survey records, personal papers and official documents, trying to learn what the landscape of Newton County looked like at the time of white settlement.

Interest in and a knowledge of land has been a big part of Loncarich's life. His father, a land surveyor, is currently the county surveyor.

After receiving his college degree and going to work for the Missouri Department of Conservation, Loncarich took on the job of managing public lands in Newton County, as well as in other nearby counties. In Newton County, he is responsible for managing the Diamond Grove Prairie and the Capps Creek Conservation Area in the Jollification community.

Within the last two or three years, Loncarich began to take a serious look at land in the county from an historical viewpoint.

"I knew there were abundant resources and wildlife here at that time," he explained. "So, I wondered what resources those animals had to sustain them. I thought we could better manage the land if we knew its history and why the land developed the way it did. "Thus began his research to put together a picture of what it was like in the country before there was significant white settlement.

Doing this only on his own time, progress was slow, but then he was asked to present a program to the Shoal Creek Watershed group. This kicked his research into gear and he began looking for information in that watershed area.

One of his best sources of information came from the early township surveys which were made in the 1830s and early 1840s. When surveyors go through an area, they set corner stones and mark witness trees on their maps. But they also make short references to such things as timber varieties, undergrowth vegetation, soil types, and plants.

"They give some description, but only a minimum," Loncarich said, "but it's a start and by looking at adjoining townships lines and noting where the witness trees were marked, you get an idea about whether timber was widespread at that point or if there were only scattered trees."

And, of course, if there no witness tree was marked, it was likely that area was solitary prairie.

But the official records are almost technical and Loncarich is eager to find more personal references to the land. This, he hopes, will come in what early settlers told about the land they homesteaded. He is eager to "hear" what the early settlers had to say.

Now that he has begun the research, Loncarich believes his work might be worthy of publishing for others to use in the future and it might be of interest to the general population.

"In my own time, I hope to dig more into this," he said. "It would be nice to publish it. Even from a study of the surveys, I can at least make some inferences about what the land was like in certain spots. And quotes from settlers would make the picture even better."

Noting that a similar project had been done in Dade County and in the Boston Mountains of northwest Arkansas, Loncarich thinks it can be done here.

But, whether his study is ever published, he believes the lessons he will learn will help him manage our public lands to maximize their potential and to help the wildlife on those lands.

"We have already learned that if we return to old ways and native plants, wildlife does better," Loncarich said. "As we have worked to restore the prairies and the open timber in the county, we have seen a big comeback in the quail population. We know this works so now we just need to find out what the landscape looked like back then and work toward that."

So, as Loncarich works on his research project, he will be looking back with his eye on the future.

Anyone with old letters, diaries or other historical documents relating to the geology, topography, or other landscape features of early-day Newton County may contact Loncarich at 417-452-3879.