MDC Burr Oak Woods Nature Center marks 30-year milestone

News from the region
Kansas City
Published Date

Blue Springs, Mo. -- Thousands of people have walked its woodland trails and admired wildflowers and wild critters since Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center opened 30 years ago. Youngsters entranced by touching a live frog or turtle grew up, and now they bring their children to hear naturalists explain nature’s web.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) will host special events on Oct. 5 and Oct. 6 to mark the Nature Center’s three-decade anniversary.

“I think it’s been popular because it’s very close to the city, so it’s easy for families and school groups to come out and spend time in nature,” said Nature Center Manager Lisa LaCombe. “What makes it special is that we have 1,071 acres, and it serves many folks who can’t get farther out from the city.”

Burr Oak Woods holds a unique place in the conservation history of Missouri, and the Kansas City metro area. Missourians approved a one-eighth-cent sales tax for conservation in 1976. In 1977, land for the Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area was purchased in Blue Springs as the base for a nature center serving the Kansas City metro area. The Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center opened its doors in 1982, MDC’s first nature center for an urban area.

Since then, MDC staff has continued to fine tune exhibits and develop innovative nature interpretive programs for all seasons. Native-plant landscaping welcomes visitors outside the building. Indoors are classrooms, nature exhibits, an aquarium, education programs and an auditorium. MDC naturalists and foresters teach classes and host visitors. But also, volunteers do much to connect people with nature and make the center a conservation crossroads for western Missouri. Burr Oak Woods hosts 80,000 visitors annually.

Coinciding with the anniversary are new indoor exhibits. Children can see and touch larger-than-life models of critters, or ponder nature sounds as they explore a bird nest. Outdoors, a Discover Nature Classroom and play area was completed this summer. In this classroom, kids can crawl over or through a log, build hiding spaces with limbs, stack blocks or make music on a wooden, all-weather xylophone.

Beyond the Center are popular hiking trails winding through shady oak woodlands and restored native grasses. One trail winds past scenic Bethany Falls limestone outcrops on a wooded creek bluff. Wild turkeys and white-tailed deer are often spotted along the roads and trails. Burr Oak also features areas with a restored mix of trees, native grasses and wildflowers, a glimpse of how much of the Kansas City landscape looked before settlement.

The area draws its name from a stream that serves as an outdoor classroom and hiking destination.

“Burr Oak Creek is a really beautiful little prairie-woodland stream,” LaCombe said.

Three decades of connecting people with nature will be celebrated on Friday, Oct. 5. Lucas Miller, the “Singing Zoologist,” will give a multi-media musical concert with performances 4 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. At the intermission at 5 p.m., a Burr Oak Woods birthday cake will be shared.

On Saturday, Oct. 6, performances of “Charlotte’s Web of Life” will be offered from 6 to 9 p.m. The short play takes place along a trail and the characters illustrate nature’s interwoven systems. Performances begin on the quarter hour.

All events are free. For more information about Burr Oak Woods birthday bash, call 816-229-3766.