The Springfield Conservation Nature Center opened to the public 30 years ago, but the roots of this popular southwest Missouri facility go back much further.
Nearly 2.8 million people have visited the Springfield Conservation Nature Center building and more than 6 million people have walked the area’s trails since the Missouri Department of Conservation facility, at 4601 Nature Way in Springfield, opened on Oct. 7, 1988. The nature center will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a number of special programs on Friday, Oct. 5, Saturday, Oct. 6, and Sunday, Oct. 7.
The Springfield site is one of a number of educational facilities MDC operates around the state. Collectively, these facilities represent a solution to concerns that had worried Department of Conservation staff years before MDC opened any site of this type.
“Perhaps the gravest problem in America today is that of resolving the social aggravations that arise among people trapped in teeming urban centers. To what extent can the Missouri Conservation Department contribute to alleviating this problem through the development of outdoor recreational facilities, however simple they might seem, within easy reach of the mass of city dwellers?”
These words are from “Missouri Conservation Program Report,” an independent study conducted in 1970 that addressed a number of challenges facing the Department of Conservation. One looming problem was how to keep conservation principles strong in a Missouri population that was becoming increasingly urbanized. The report used the department’s already-existent Rockwoods Reserve in St. Louis County as a solution and, in so doing, gave a prophetic description of the department’s future nature centers.
“An information center with exhibits and a wildlife zoo is featured. Self-guiding nature trails, picnic areas and hiking ... are also available. There is no opportunity for hunting or fishing, but multitudes enjoy the area, including many busloads of school children from throughout the city ... To what extent is it feasible to extend this type of development to other urban fringes?”
This concept of putting public outreach and educational facilities in urban areas became an integral part of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s “Design for Conservation” management plan. This plan was a master plan for conservation that, among other things, called for the development of “education centers” that would help connect people, particularly in urban settings, with the outdoors.
“Design for Conservation” received a boost in 1976 when Missourians voted for one-eighth of 1 percent of the state’s sales tax revenues to be earmarked for conservation. With a source of dedicated funding, the concept of developing nature centers at select urban sites transformed from a good idea into a definite plan. The first MDC nature center to open was Kansas City’s Burr Oak Woods in 1982, and Springfield followed in 1988.
Moving back to the present, 30th anniversary festivities at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center will kick off with an open house from 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 5. That night, from 7 to 9 p.m., local musician and accomplished birder Bo Brown will combine his love of the outdoors and music in the special program “Nature and the Arts: Songs and Birds.”
The next day, Oct. 6, from 9 a.m. to noon, people can learn more about nature photography at a Nature Photography Basics program. People attending this program should bring their own cameras because part of the program will involve taking photos along the nature center’s trails. Also on Oct. 6, trail hikes guided by MDC naturalists will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.
On Oct. 7, people can learn more about the skills needed to survive in pre-settlement Missouri at Primitive Skills Day from 1 to 5 p.m.
There is no registration for the primitive skills program, but registration is required for the Oct. 5 “Nature and the Arts” bird program and the Oct. 6 nature photography program. People can register for this programs by going to mdc.mo.gov/SouthwestEvents.
For more information about these or other events at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, call (417) 888-4237.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation's Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call (417) 895-6880.