I went to Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center on Oct. 20 to celebrate their 25th anniversary and was reminded of what makes these places so valuable. The building, exhibits and trails are important, sure. But it’s the people who care so much about helping other people make deeply personal connections to nature that make a nature center matter. And the staff and volunteers over those many years, including today…well, they’re just generous with their love of the outdoors and the people who might enjoy it.
Wayne Bass was one of the staff celebrating 25 years with Burr Oak Woods. He mentioned what mattered most then and still today is simply bringing people and nature together—to help that frightened 5-year-old understand that nature’s really not scary but something fun to explore and enjoy.
One happy result of the conservation sales tax passed in 1976 was support for the creation of nature centers across the state. Burr Oak Woods in Blue Springs near Kansas City was the first of these.
In the evening’s 25th celebration, it was Dorothy, the lion, scarecrow and tin woodsman leading 600 explorers along the trails as staff and volunteers “opened eyes to the wonders of the forest” through natural adventures themed to the Wizard of Oz.
Lisa Lacombe, the assistant manager, was one of the evil monkeys, sweeping down on a zip line (doing it 24 times that evening as different groups passed by). Stacey Davis, the manger, was a tree (which makes sense since she’s tall). In just a day and a half, the reservations for the event filled up.
It doesn’t surprise me. At Runge Conservation Nature Center in Jefferson City, they have an annual Halloween event (it was postponed tonight until tomorrow due to rain) that draws about 3,000 people—mostly parents with young children who still find the natural world full of magic and wonder. And that’s what the nature centers are all about. And that’s something worth celebrating.