Campus at the Cape

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 22, 2010

Watch one enthusiastic child bounce between exhibits, around the beehive, to the aquariums, to the bird feeders, and back to the exhibits again, and you know that all the planning, design and construction that went into the Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus Nature Center was worthwhile.

Though similar to other Department nature centers, Cape Girardeau’s was designed for the people of southeast Missouri and showcases the rich cultural history and diverse natural resources of the area. Since May 14, 2005, its interactive exhibits have brought the region’s forest, marsh, swamp and big-river habitats to life for all ages.

Look AND touch

You may want to launch your first visit to the exhibit gallery by stepping into the past. An installation of Native American pottery and primitive tools, donated by local collector Paul Corbin, focuses on historical resource use. Then, imagine yourself living the rustic life as you explore a replica of a trapper’s cabin. Or, see how the corner grocery has changed since 1910 at a market-hunting storefront.

Want to record some natural history of your own? Head to the nature journaling area and document the activities of the birds at the feeding station. Once you’re familiar with this group, try your hand at identifying ducks in the waterfowl blind or imitating the sounds of a turkey.

For a change of habitat, stop by another station to practice your bullfrog calls before you wade through the replica swamp. It will give you an even greater appreciation of this unique southeast Missouri natural community. Anglers and the merely curious can stop at the large freshwater aquarium and admire fish native to the Mississippi River. And don’t forget to take a rare look at the river’s endangered Ohio shrimp, or spy on a tongue-angling alligator snapping turtle as it tries to catch lunch.

You can also learn to match an animal to its tracks, watch the honeybees work in the “Tupelo Beehive,” and crawl through a large-scale version of a beaver’s lodge.

Choose your adventure

The Cape Girardeau County Commission added 50 acres to the existing park system to provide a home for the new nature center. The location within the county park enhances the center’s resources with picnic shelters, a large fishing lake, additional walking trails, and playground equipment.

The rolling river hills of the “White Oak Trace” trail network offer beauty and a workout. Visitors might benefit from hiking shoes and a walking stick because “Tulip Poplar Hill,” “Sinkhole Bottom” and “Pawpaw Valley” are challenging segments.

For those looking for a more leisurely experience, there is a quarter-mile asphalt section along the ridge top to an overlook deck on “Farkleberry Knob.” Or, you can stroll through the nature center gardens learning about native plants that are beneficial for wildlife. Hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects are featured guests.

Another place for outdoor investigation is the marsh at the front of the building. Nets, binoculars or an unaided set of eyes can all be used to see who lives there and how valuable a marsh is. As you fish or wander, purple martins will likely glide by, chirping as they work on nests in gourd-shaped houses.

Children 15 and under can try their luck in the “kids only” fishing area. Fishing poles and worms are available at the information desk.

Assuming all of this gets you itching to visit some public land where you can fish, hunt, trap, hike, camp or observe nature, then “Where to Go” brochures, found throughout the exhibit gallery, will be of interest.

Take a class on campus

The nature center features a 160-seat auditorium, three classrooms and a scientific research laboratory. Interpretive programs and special events are offered year-round to highlight natural history topics, conservation practices and outdoor skills.

School children can participate in field trips tailored to their grade level, and teachers are encouraged to plan events at the Conservation Campus Nature Center. Kids can also join a kids’ club. Teens and adults can experience outdoor adventure through various scheduled offerings.

Classrooms are available to local conservation-minded groups for informational meetings. Specialty workshops are also tailored for educators to help them obtain resource materials and lesson plans. They can even borrow thematic “Discovery Trunks” to introduce conservation education into their classrooms.

A variety of fun, educational items, such as books, videos and nature-related items, are available for sale at the Nature Shop.

Keeping connected

As Aldo Leopold wrote in his forward to A Sand County Almanac, “Th ere are some people who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” Because of this, the nature center also serves as a meeting space and resource for volunteers from the community who help present programs, tend trails, answer phones, care for native gardens and participate in scientific research.

The Conservation Campus Nature Center is located in Cape Girardeau’s North County Park, just east of Interstate 55 (Exit 99) and U.S. Highway 61.

The nature center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, contact Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus Nature Center, 2289 County Park Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701, (573) 290-5218, www.missouriconservation.org/areas/cnc/cape/. triangle

Clubs for kids and teens

Mudpuppies—This preschool-level program is offered four times each month for children 3 to 6 years.

November’s topic is titled “Talkin’ Turkey.” Children will learn about wild turkeys in Missouri and make a craft to take home. Saturday, Nov. 5 at 11 a.m. & 1 p.m., or Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m.

Attendance is limited to one program per month. An adult must accompany the child to the program. Registration is required.

Snappers—This conservation kids’ club is designed for children 7 to 11 years and meets on the second Tuesday evening of each month.

November’s topic is “Not Just A Long Winter’s Nap.” Learn how animals prepare for hibernation and just how long they enjoy their winter slumber. Tuesday, Nov. 8 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

An adult must accompany the child to the program. Registration is required.

Racers—This conservation teen club is for ages 12 to 17 years. This activity-based program is usually a few hours in length and may consist of a short field trip.

November’s topic is “Prowling for Owls” on Friday, Nov. 18 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The teens will search for nesting sites, try to call owls in, and learn what they eat.

Registration is required.

Recommended for families

Naturalist Notebook— On the first Sunday of each month, join one of the naturalists as they select a favorite program from their notebook, set up an interesting discovery table or explore current natural events along the trail.

In November, this program will be offered on Sunday, Nov. 6 from 2 to 3 p.m.

No registration required.

Sunday Featured Films—A variety of conservation CDs or videos will be shown in the auditorium every Sunday from 3 to 4 p.m.

No registration required.

Hikes—Offered periodically throughout the year.

The next trip will be held Saturday, Nov. 26 from 2 to 3 p.m.

No registration required.

Teens and adults

Outdoor Skill Programs—Offered periodically throughout the year.

November‘s topic is “Waterfowl Hunting Tips, Techniques and Tactics,” on Thursday, Nov. 3 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Ages 12 to adult.

Registration is required.

Private Land Workshops—Offered the first Tuesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. November’s topic is “Whitetail Deer Management.” Ages 12 to adult.

No registration required.

For adults only

Adults Only—A monthly program designed to offer opportunities for ages 18 and up.

November’s topic is “Backyard Bird Feeding,” to be held Saturday, Nov. 19 from 9 to 11 a.m.

Learn the basics of attracting, feeding and identifying winter birds. Registration is required.

For these and other great programs and free subscriptions to our bi-monthly newsletter, the Tupelo Times, call the Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus Nature Center at (573) 290-5218.

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