What does the outdoors mean to you? That’s one question we asked more than 100 Missourians ages 25-40 in a series of focus groups in six cities across the state. The answers were as diverse as the people who live here. Freedom, peace, escape, adventure, enjoying beauty, family fun, recreation, exploration…all these things were part of what they value about getting outside. And “nature” is the one word that summed for most of them in the most positive way the life that makes up the outdoors.
Fortunately, there are places in Missouri where you can enjoy all this—and it’s free, safe and clean. (Safe and clean/litter-free were features several people mentioned they wanted in their outdoor experiences.) Conservation Nature Centers and Education Centers are scattered across the state—and serve more than a million visitors each year. But there are still plenty of Missourians who don’t know they exist. That’s why I’m mentioning them here—whether you want to enjoy time in nature alone or spend time with your kids.
When Missourians voted for the 1/8 of 1 percent sales tax in 1976, they set in motion a way to strengthen support for the Missouri Department of Conservation and some of the most diverse conservation programs in the U.S. The nature centers are just one of many programs. They offer walking trails, ponds, fields, forests, naturalist-led programs and exhibits on our wild animals, plants and outdoor recreation skills. As I post this blog with a morning temperature of -3 degrees, the photos I’m using to illustrate this don’t exactly reflect what a trip to one today would look like…but seeing a little green right now seems like an antidote to winter.
P.S. Ironically, I was just about to post this entry and got a call that a pipe had burst in Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center (the one pictured above) and they’re closing the building today (1/15/09) since water is flooding a hallway. So even more reason to think ahead to the joys of less frigid weather.