Ground broken on new MDC Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center

News from the region
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BRANSON, Mo. – With a few ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt, the new Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center moved one step closer to becoming a location that can better welcome the large crowds that have literally lined up at the building’s doors for decades to learn about conservation.

On Monday, April 10, MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley joined fellow MDC staff, State Rep. Brian Seitz, Branson city officials, and others for a groundbreaking ceremony that kicked off the construction phase of the $6.7 million project. The new conservation center will be located at the same site – 483 Hatchery Road in Branson – as the former facility. The conservation center is adjacent to MDC’s Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery and serves as the hatchery’s visitors center.

The location of the new Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center will be one of the few similarities the new facility will share with its predecessor. The new conservation center will more than twice the size of the old building and will feature a large multi-purpose room that can be divided into two classrooms. This will allow visitors to view programs about how trout are raised – which has long been a visitor favorite at the site – in one classroom while the other space can be used as a classroom for educational programs and meetings. The new conservation center will also feature a new indoor aquarium, new exhibits, larger lobby, larger restrooms, and more office space for staff and volunteers. Construction of the new center is projected to take nearly two years and is being completed by Branco Enterprises Inc. of Springfield.

“We know that Branson is a tourism epicenter in the state and this conservation center has been a popular destination for families and school groups for decades,” said MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley. “I would like to thank the Conservation Commission, MDC staff, and all our valuable partners for their commitment to making this a premier destination for future generations to get excited about conservation in Missouri.”

The basic challenge of the former Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center was popularity – the facility had too much of it. The more than 200,000 people that visit the conservation center each year weren’t part of the plans for the original building, which opened in 1980. The original plan for this part of the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery complex called for an unstaffed facility designed for passive visitation.

These plans did not envision Branson becoming one of the country’s major tourist destinations. The hatchery’s scenic locations, coupled with free conservation-oriented tours and programs that focus on the one million trout raised at the hatchery each year have made the Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center a must-see destination for travelers from near and far. In summer – the center’s busiest times – the building can see as many as 1,800 people per day.

The conservation center will be closed to the public during construction and MDC Education staff who work at the center will continue to conduct programs off-site and virtually. The adjacent Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery will continue to produce trout while construction is underway, but due to the loss of available parking and not being able to provide safe access for public visitation, the hatchery and its adjoining raceways will also be closed to the public.

“While I know our visitors will miss our displays and animals – plus the opportunity to spend their quarters feeding fish – during our temporary closure, this new building and expanded educational offerings will be a ‘wow’ when we reopen in 2025. It will be worth the wait, and you can also save all your quarters to buy food for the trout in the raceways in anticipation of the facility’s opening day,” said Director Pauley

Branson-area anglers and hunters who have grown accustomed to purchasing their permits at the Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center are reminded that they can buy their permits online through MDC’s MO Fishing and MO Hunting apps.