SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Protecting the watersheds of southwest Missouri involves more than caring for water. Maintaining the environmental beauty of our waterways takes comprehensive stewardship of the land around the streams as well as the water flowing through them. It takes an ongoing educational effort that connects the people to the watershed and helps them understand their value.
In other words, it’s work the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks does throughout the year.
The Watershed Committee of the Ozarks (WCO) was recognized in February by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), receiving the Outstanding Partner of the Year Award from MDC’s Forestry Division. WCO is a 501c3 organization in Springfield situated at Valley Watermill Lake on the northeast side of the community at 2400 E. Valley Water Mill Road. In addition to the Watershed Center building, the facility’s office site includes an amphitheater, hiking trails that wind through 44 acres of forested property, a boardwalk, and two fishing piers alongside a 13-acre lake. In 2018 WCO achieved Certified Tree Farm status through the management of their forested acres. They’ve also implemented an aggressive invasive species removal plan and have conducted timber stand improvement work and controlled burns. The WCO also offers a variety of educational programs.
“The Watershed Committee of the Ozarks is like having another nature center on the north side of Springfield,” MDC Resource Forester Paul Johnson said. “WCO actively participates in public outreach of all kinds. Their efforts have reached countless numbers of elementary and high school students, college students, and have provided opportunities for volunteer service. They have found many ways to spread conservation through education, advocacy and hands-on work.”
WCO provides educational opportunities for all ages, although it’s particularly popular with local and elementary schools for hands-on outdoor learning experiences. In 2018, more than 8,000 local and regional students participated in Watershed Center field trips. Most visitors are introduced to beautiful native Missouri habitats and management activities which can improve the health of those habitats and, ultimately, water quality. WCO also operates a website, partners with the James River Basin Alliance and has created several educational TV commercials.
“They have found many ways to spread conservation through education, advocacy and hands-on work,” Johnson said.