The showiest of the Conservation Department's exhibits at this year's SEMO District Fair is the "Showboat" truck -- a perfect illustration of early conservation education in action. (MDC photo by Candice Davis)
Record whitetail deer mounts, black bear traps and turtles are popular items at the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) SEMO District Fair pavilion this year. However, the showiest of the MDC's exhibits is the "Showboat" truck -- a perfect illustration of early conservation education in action.
This year is the MDC's 75th anniversary, which is highlighted in the Department's SEMO Fair exhibits through the stories of fish, wildlife and forest restoration successes.
The story of the "Showboat" is where forest conservation met modern day marketing and public relations back in the 1930's. Early Missouri conservationists recognized that a healthy forest resource was essential to healthy fish and wildlife populations and this was when the Missouri Ozarks forests that were once thought to be invincible were decimated.
The MDC deployed the Showboat to educate the rural communities in forest conservation and to discourage the burning of remaining forests. This truck had a generator, picture screen and projector, and a driver/film operator. The Showboat brought forestry movies into the Ozark hills where there was no electricity. The pictures were shown outdoors, in crossroad stores, at country churches and schools. It brought movies to people who had never seen one in their lives and this mobile entertainment operated for 12 years, continuing even through World War II.
It was after education efforts such as the Showboat that fire-prevention programs began to pay off. Once fires were reduced, efforts could be turned towards managing the forest. Foresters planted seedlings, harvested trees that were damaged by fire, and removed undesirable trees. Private landowners were taught how to improve their forest and wildlife habitat.
Now, many decades since the Showboat truck toured our state, a drive through the Missouri Ozarks is what it once was -- nearly completely full of forests and rolling hills that make breathtaking views.
As you visit the SEMO Fair this week, please stop by the Conservation pavilion and check out the Showboat and all our other exhibits. Pause and consider the impact this one historic vehicle made on our Missouri landscape so long ago. It may even lead you to wonder about your own impact on our fish, forests and wildlife.
For more information on conservation history in Missouri and the Showboat truck, go online to mdc.mo.gov or stop by and see us at the SEMO District Fair.