It's a Capital Idea

By Kathy Cavender | May 2, 2004
From Missouri Conservationist: May 2004

Where can you go in the Capital City to see a tallgrass prairie, a marsh or a glade? You can experience all of these wild habitats and much more at Runge Conservation Nature Center.

Since the Runge Conservation Nature Center opened in 1993, more than a million people have visited Jefferson City's urban oasis. According to the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, Runge is the most visited attraction in Jefferson City.

Runge Conservation Nature Center occupies 112 acres and includes a 27,000 square-foot nature center building. You will feel right at home as you walk through the front doors of the nature center into the spacious lobby. There you can sit and enjoy a crackling fire or marvel at the display of animal mounts, including the world-record, nontypical deer antlers that came from a Missouri deer.

Every other month you will see a new conservation-related exhibit on display in the nature center lobby.

The lobby leads to a 3,000-square-foot exhibit space. Here you can learn about a wide variety of natural habitats in Missouri and how the Missouri Department of Conservation manages them for forest, fish and wildlife resources. You might see a timber rattlesnake, track a deer, listen to the booming sound of a prairie chicken, come nose to nose with a giant bullfrog, and learn how to determine the age of a fish by one of its scales.

Your adventure through the exhibits culminates with a full view of a 3,580-gallon freshwater fish aquarium that contains some of Missouri's freshwater fish species. Inhabitants of the aquarium include largemouth bass, channel catfish and some huge crappie and sunfish.

Across from the aquarium is the "Critter Corner. " It features a living beehive, live animals, a puppet theatre, a magnetic wall and other hands-on activities for children.

At the wildlife viewing area you can enjoy the sights and sounds of squirrels, chipmunks, deer, chickadees and other wildlife in their natural habitat. Native Missouri plants and various feeders attract wildlife. There's also a mini-stream that winds through the area and is fed by runoff from the roof, which is covered with wooden shingles.

Other features inside the nature center building include a gift shop stocked with a wide selection of books, videos and nature-related items, a nature library with books for children and adults, a 200-seat auditorium and three classrooms.

Outside are five nature trails. Walk amid indigo buntings and a variety of butterflies as you venture down Raccoon Run. This trail is the longest of the five and winds past savanna, prairie, marsh and woodland habitats. You can enjoy a grand vista of the entire Runge area atop a fire tower located near the beginning of the trail.

Bluestem Ridge is a trail of intermediate length and difficulty. It winds along the edge of the prairie and then dives into a woodland habitat. In spring, a trip along Bluestem Ridge will likely reward you with the resonant sounds of spring peepers and chorus frogs as they try to attract mates.

Moss Rock Trace will calm your anxieties with its shady feel and the sounds of water trickling through a wet-weather stream. Look for bluebells, spicebush and pawpaw trees as you cross the 180-foot boardwalk. Continue through a small glade, which is home to numerous wildflowers, including Indian paintbrush, coreopsis, coneflowers and blazing stars.

Stepping onto Towering Oak Trail brings a sense of timelessness as you discover 200-year-old white oak trees. On your Towering Oak venture you will cross several wooden bridges and trek under a canopy of oak, hickory, walnut and other spectacular trees of Missouri.

Along the Naturescape Trail you will find several examples of backyard wildlife habitat, such as a decked area with planters, a rock garden, a wildflower meadow and a garden pond. This trail is the shortest and easiest trail and is accessible to people in wheelchairs.

In addition to the building, facilities, exhibits and trails, Runge Nature Center also offers a variety of special events and activities for people of all ages. The staff often travels to community events and sets up activities for children, as well as educational exhibits for all ages. Teachers and civic leaders can contact the nature center to schedule interpretive programs for their groups. During the summer and winter, nature center programs travel to schools or other locations for people who are unable to visit the center. Special general public programs are scheduled continually throughout the year.

Since its grand opening on July 10, 1993, Runge Conservation Nature Center staff have worked hard to find new and innovative ways to connect Missourians with the outdoors.

Interpretive programs such as Frog Frenzy, AcroBats, and Reptile Rap help children have fun as they develop a healthy understanding of Missouri's natural resources. Special events such as Naturescape Symposium, Eagle Days, and Haunted Habitats provide exciting adventures for people of all ages. General public programs focus on everything from otters, to deer processing and fly-fishing, to nature quilting and hiking. They are available throughout the year.

Runge Conservation Nature Center is located on Highway 179 just minutes from the Missouri State Capitol. The Nature Center is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5p.m. The area is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's days.

When you are in Jefferson City, make it a point to come and enjoy time at Runge. It's a CAPITAL idea!

In honor of G. ANDY RUNGE (1930-1991)

Andy Runge contributed a lifetime of effort to the field of conservation. The following are a few of the highlights of the life of one of the greatest conservationists in Missouri's history.

1970-73: President of the Missouri Prairie Foundation

1973-79: Missouri Conservation Commissioner

1978: Conservationist of the Year by Conservation Federation of Missouri

1982-83: President of the Missouri Prairie Foundation

1986-88: President of Conservation Federation of Missouri

1988: Citizen Volunteer Conservation Award by Chevron U. S. A., Inc.

1989: Member, University of Missouri System Board of Curators


  • Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center is in a quiet corner of a busy city. Leave the chaos of the urban world and escape to the 112-acre nature center located in Kirkwood.
  • August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area offers 6,987 acres of important habitat for fish and wildlife in a rapidly developing area near St. Louis. The area also offers plenty of hunting and fishing opportunities.
  • Rockwoods Reservation is a 1,843-acre state forest and wildlife oasis in western St. Louis County. Established in 1938, it is one of the oldest Conservation Department areas. It is known for introducing many youngsters to the basic concepts of conservation.
  • Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery Conservation Center, in Branson, is one of Missouri's most popular attractions. Visitors can see giant brown and rainbow trout, hike four trails and fish for trout in the Table Rock Lake tailwaters.
  • Springfield Conservation Nature Center offers the peace and quiet of an Ozark forest amid the hectic pace of the city. Here, the sounds of traffic and smells of asphalt yield to bird calls and the earthy fragrance of damp leaves.
  • Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center is nestled in the center of 1,100 acres of forest, glade, prairie, ponds, open fields, creeks and savannas. Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center is located in Blue Springs.
  • Lost Valley Visitor Center is at the Lost Valley Fish Hatchery at Warsaw. The center contains a number of exhibits, a 12,700-gallon aquarium, a kids fishing pond, and a close-up view of a state-of-the-art fish hatchery.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Director - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler