CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center invites the public to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of helping people discover nature on Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2.
Celebration events at the Nature Center will begin on Friday, May 1, with a free Wildheart concert from 7 to 8 p.m. The celebration will continue on Saturday, May 2, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with free outdoor skills and activities for the public, such as archery, canoeing, nature art, native-plant gardening, and wildlife identification. All activities are free and no registration is required.
The Nature Center also offers numerous free events and programs on a wide-range of nature-related topics throughout the year. The facility includes a 160-seat auditorium, three classrooms, hands-on exhibits for all ages, a scientific research laboratory, freshwater aquariums, an indoor wildlife-viewing area, an outside two-mile nature trail, and catch-and-release fishing pond. Nature-related gifts, books, calendars, DVDs, toys, and other items are available for purchase through the onsite Nature Shop.
Since it opened in 2005, more than 480,000 people have visited the Cape Nature Center. Staff and volunteers have led more than 5,500 nature programs over that time, including teaching people in the community various types of outdoor skills such as archery, Dutch-oven cooking, fishing, canoeing, and others.
"With only nine staff, we heavily depend on our 28 wonderful volunteers," said Nature Center Manager Sara Turner. "They bring an enthusiasm and love of nature to everything they do here."
Nature Center volunteers contribute to the operation of the center in many ways, including maintaining the native landscaping around the facility, teaching nature programs, making props and costumes for nature programs, and assisting with general office tasks. Volunteers have contributed almost 81,000 hours since the nature center opened. That translates into a cost savings of more than $1.8 million that would be required for paid staff to provide the same services.
"It would take about 38 fulltime employees to generate the contributions that our volunteers make to the Nature Center," Turner said. "They are an invaluable part of this facility and our entire community."
Turner said it's been rewarding to watch the Nature Center become part of the southeast Missouri community and culture. Over the last 10 years, staff and volunteers have made a point to take part in many community events such as leading trash pick-ups, serving as an area Stream Team, becoming active members of the Jackson and Cape Girardeau Chambers of Commerce, providing information and exhibits at area events such as the SEMO District Fair, and serving as a resource for schools across the Bootheel and into the Ozarks.
"Our mission is to help people discover nature and to help our community realize how conservation improves the quality of life for all of us," Turner said. "These community events are an important way for us to lead others in discovering the benefits that come with being active in the outdoors."
Some of the larger, more popular events hosted by the Cape Nature Center include an annual native plant seminar in March, Day on the River in September, and fall festival in October.
"We've been encouraged by seeing attendance grow into the thousands at our bigger annual events," Turner said. "That tells us we're doing something right, and to keep finding ways to introduce people to nature."
Turner said the staff and volunteers at the Nature Center continually look for new ways to benefit and work with local schools, scout groups, people with special needs, minorities, university students, and homeschool groups – many of whom have established relationships with the facility.
One of the reasons for the Center's popularity is that it's one of few options for something fun to do in the area that's easy on the wallet. The facility even received a 2014 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.com as the number-one thing to do in Cape Girardeau.
"We're one of the only free opportunities for families and groups in the region thanks to the dedicated Conservation Sales Tax," Turner said, adding this is one reason schools and groups use the center so frequently. "Our kid's fishing pond and hiking trails are also a big hit."
For Turner, the best thing about the Nature Center is that it gives her opportunities to share her enthusiasm and knowledge of nature with others.
"Educating others about our local resources and sharing our knowledge and skills is fulfilling because the rewards include a growing awareness of the value of nature," she said. "This results in increased stewardship of our natural world as more people head outdoors and work to conserve and protect it," she said.
The future of the Cape Nature Center is wide-open with possibilities, Turner said, including continued growth of partnerships within the community and with local school districts.
"I want us to be the first place someone thinks about when they think about nature, outdoor skills, and conservation in our region," she said.
The Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center is located inside Cape Girardeau's North County Park, just east of Interstate 55 (Exit 99) and Kingshighway (State Highway 61). Get more information about the Nature Center, including operating hours and area regulations, online at mdc.mo.gov/CapeNatureCenter or by calling 573-290-5218.