Springfield Conservation Nature Center

If you’re looking for a quick hike or some free fun for the kids, few things in Springfield MO can top the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.  Located at 4601 Nature Center Way on Springfield’s southeast side just off Glenstone and Republic road, the Nature Center boasts interactive displays, a glassed in bird watching station, plenty of programs and both paved and non-paved hiking trails.

My son, Cole and I spent an hour hiking the long trail.  It’s a mix of paved asphalt, chet rock, wooden decking and rocky outcrop trail.  Parts of the hike are a little more challenging for small children and if it’s raining or has been, the trail will most likely be flooded over as it comes into close proximity with tributaries of Springfield Lake.  There are other trails that keep away from the water and are handicap accessible as well.  There are also plenty of sitting areas on every trail if you become tired or need a short break.

On our trip, we did not see very much wildlife, but the trails were busy with children, runners and other hikers like ourselves.  I have seen wild turkey, deer, snakes, toads, frogs, salamanders and numerous types of birds.  If you have time, I recommend sitting in the photo blind for a little while to see what unsuspecting animal may come for a drink in the lake.

The Nature Center offers numerous programs for all ages including Babes in the Woods for ages 0-2, Little Acorns for ages 3-6 and Storytime with Ms. Ladybug for ages 2-6.  Teens also have special programs, sometimes for a nominal cost, every month.  The center also offers hikes in different areas of Springfield and the surrounding parks like Fellows Lake and Bois D’Arc with carpooling available as well.  The Primitive Skills Series is a must for any Bear Grylls fan as they cover different skills every season such as edible plants, outdoor safety, flint knapping and more.

https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places/springfield-cnc will bring you to their website for the Springfield location.  You can download the bimonthly newsletter, get maps and directions and a host of other information about the Nature Center from this site.

I believe the best part about the Springfield CNC is that it is so close to our busy city.  We are fortunate to be able to very quickly get away and find peace and quiet (unless they are working on James River Expy) and reconnect with nature.  Children never get tired of watching for animals, seeing birds feed at a feeder, or discovering what is behind the next bend in the trail and adults shouldn’t either.

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center-Joplin Mo.

Just off of I-44 in Joplin sits 27 acres of bird watcher paradise.  163 types of birds have been recorded by birders visiting the center including the American Kestrel, Barred Owl, and Red Shouldered Hawk.  The website at wildcatglades.audubon.org offers an excellent, all inclusive list of the birds you may see when you visit the park.  The website is bright, interactive and easy to navigate.  The building is an L.E.E.D certified green building, and frankly, looked a bit overgrown and unused.  The Nature Center building is closed on Monday’s adding to the general air of disuse.  Upon further reflection, with the wildflowers blooming so close to the building, and the rock structure blending so well into its setting, you get a sense that the architect wanted the glade to take center stage and the building to run a close second.

I arrived from Springfield after an hour and 15 minute drive using instructions from Google Maps on my phone.  Lucky for me they were spot on.  I met up with my friend Cameron and he wanted to take me on the Bluff hike, a rocky, fairly challenging chert covered 2+ miles if you start from the Audubon center.  The trail takes you beside Shoal Creek, which has plenty of spots to stop and cool off for those who love water or have dogs that do.  The Bluff trail climbs up to a 50 ft. chert bluff overlooking the creek.  There were some sketchy spots, especially for someone who’s not a fan of heights and young children are not recommended to take this trail.  There is a warning sign at the beginning of this trail-read it.  There is really no way to receive medical help once you commit to this adventure.

On this particular day, it was 97 degrees.  I kept my water bottle out, my hat on and smeared on the SPF 50 at every opportunity.  Cameron, who had just completed a triathlon the weekend before, gamely kept to my slow pace as we talked about our mutual occupation as occupational therapy assistants and caught up on each other’s lives.  I will admit, parts of the trail really challenged me but I didn’t take more than one short rest break.  After all, I’m not that old!  Wildcat also has two other trails which also connect to Joplin’s Metro trails.  There is a downloadable color map on their website under the trails tab.

Coming up is the Shoal Creek Water Festival on Saturday, August 12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be lots of activities for the kids-cardboard shoebox race, duck race, dunk tanks, super soakers and a fishing derby.  For the adults there will be an inner tube race that has a small cost associated with it.  If you are interested in any of these activities, get to the website quick so you can check out the registration details and costs associated.  Looks like it’s free to have fun and get wet!

All in all, I’m glad I went and I will be back in the fall to walk again and watch a little more closely for those 163 birds!