Looking for a break from your routine? Are working, housework, laundry, cooking and cleaning out the garage wearing you down? Are the kids staring too much at the TV or their video games? Do you wish there was a place that had something for everyone, got you outside and didn’t cost anything?
I’ve got the perfect answer. Visit Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center in Kirkwood. Even though it’s been around a long time, there are plenty of new things to see and do there.
Powder Valley CNC is a conservation interpretation facility nestled on 112 acres of oak-hickory forest on the northeast corner of Interstates 270 and 44 in Kirkwood.
During the mid-1980s, the Missouri Department of Conservation, looking for a location to serve people in the St. Louis area, purchased this land from the Alwal Moore family.
Once they’d found just the right place, development began. Constructing the building took about 15 months. The doors opened to the public for the first time on Oct. 25, 1991. Since then, more than 1.5 million people have visited the area.
Powder Valley owes its name to the property’s Civil War use as a storage site for explosives. After the battle of Pilot Knob, Union militia stored blasting powder in a cave located in one of the valleys near this area to prepare for a possible invasion of St. Louis by Confederate troops.
During World War I, the DuPont de Nemours Company used nearby sites to manufacture and store explosives. The caves that hid the explosives were across the highway, closer to the Meramec River. They likely collapsed when Interstates 270 and 44 were built.
The nature center itself is a 22,000-square-foot building with 3,500 square feet of exhibits. The exhibits are brand new. The remodeling was finished this year.
The facility also has a 250-seat auditorium and four classrooms to accommodate naturalist-led programs and meetings of conservation-related groups.
A wildlife viewing station, living beehive and 3,000-gallon fish aquarium provide opportunities to observe wildlife up close.
The gift shop is packed with Conservation Department publications and other nature-related merchandise, including bird feeders, compasses and items for children.
Follow the tracks up the front walk to a map of the area and a native plant garden with signs that identify many of the plants.
One of the first things you’ll want to see in the nature center is a mount of the Missouri Monarch, the world record non-typical white-tailed deer that was found in St. Louis County in 1983.
In a room off the lobby, you’ll spot the Kids Corner, where children can play in a puppet theater with wildlife puppets and touch various natural items like fur, feathers, bones, nuts, turtle shells and more. Kids love to do leaf rubbings here and then take them home as keepsakes.
Get ready to use all your senses to learn about backyard wildlife and habitats, protecting streams, fishing, hunting and wildlife conflicts in the Welcome to the Neighborhood exhibits area. Three large dioramas of various urban habitat types portray the local flora and fauna. Adults can design their own native plant garden for their yard using GrowNative! information and materials.
Kids (and kids at heart) love to explore the real tree house, complete with a “rope” bridge. It is full of things kids love: collections of frogs, woods and bugs, a turtle skeleton, a tree “cookie,” which has rings marked for special years, and a creepy surprise or two.
Be sure to look into the aquarium from above and below. If you visit around 1 p.m. on Sundays, you can watch us feed the fish.
Films of conservation topics are shown in the auditorium every weekend, and each month a new artist’s work is exhibited in our hallway “gallery.”
Check out the beehive, which was donated by Mr. Ted Jansen, and draw a picture for our display before you leave. Ted volunteers his time as often as necessary to care for and advise staff on the health of the hive. He also has given programs and invaluable education to our employees.
You’ll also want to visit the wildlife viewing area, where you can catch glimpses of many different types of song birds, as well as turkeys, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums and deer. If you want a closer look, you can borrow some binoculars at the front desk.
To learn more about what you’ve seen, visit the library, which is full of nature and conservation books and magazines for adults and children. Relax in the library’s rocking chair as you read, or gaze out the large window facing the forest as you relax and unwind.
All three of the nature center’s trails are paved to prevent erosion and to make them easier to negotiate. The shortest, Tanglevine, is about one-third mile long, and its gentle slopes are disabled accessible. The trail goes by a small pond. Signs help interpret various points of interest along the trail.
Broken Ridge Trail is two-thirds mile long. It crisscrosses a creek lined with oak, hickory and maple trees and traverses some of the area’s steepest hills.
Hickory Ridge Trail is 1.2 miles long, but it has a half-mile loop if you don’t have time to hike the whole trail. The trail runs through cool forested valleys, over hilltops, across seasonal creeks and along a small pond with a boardwalk.
The 13 full-time and five to six part-time staff members at Powder Valley Nature Center are assisted by more than 70 volunteers. They greet visitors, answer questions, make referrals, answer phones, assist with the gift shop, help care for our display animals, work on special projects and conduct or assist with programs. Volunteers are the lifeblood of Powder Valley CNC. It would be impossible to take care of everything without them.
Our business office responds to requests and inquiries from walk-in and phone traffic seven days a week. A clerical team answers around 2,000 phone calls each month. They talk to people about anything from dealing with young animals to interpreting hunting and fishing regulations. The staff includes representatives from the Outreach & Education, Wildlife, Private Land Services, Forestry and Protection divisions of the Conservation Department.
The staff keeps the gift shop running and assists visitors at the front desk. They send out mountains of information, including maps of conservation areas, hunting and fishing regulations and brochures. A maintenance team spends their days keeping the inside and the outside clean and orderly for your visit.
The staff and volunteers at Powder Valley work hard to make your visit to the nature center pleasant, helpful and educational. A naturalist team provides programs for schools, groups and the general public on a wide variety of conservation topics. They take care of the exhibit animals and provide special events to ensure you have new and different opportunities when you visit.
Take advantage of our efforts. Put away the lawn mower, put down your rake and forget about housework for a day. Pry the remote from those little hands and bring the children to the nature center to wander among the exhibits, hike the trails, watch some wildlife, plan your wildflower garden and enjoy time together as a family. We’ll be here to greet you.
Building Hours: Daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Area Hours: Daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during daylight saving time, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. the rest of the year. Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For more info: (314) 301-1500 or explore the links listed below.
Editor in Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Arleasha Mays
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Ruby
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler