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Sunday, June 12, 2005

A 7-year-old named Robbie smiled, revealing a missing baby tooth.

This was his fifth trip to the Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus with his grandmother since it opened. He had no signs of getting tired of it, either. His grandmother's loving smile assured him this repeat visit was fine with her.

I had the privilege of watching that young man stride between exhibits, around the bee hive, to the aquariums, back to the exhibits, to the bird feeders and over to the exhibits again.

I had no doubt he would sign up for a kids club at the nature center, and as I watched his unbridled passion, I was reminded of something Aldo Leopold wrote in his foreword of A Sand County Almanac: "There are some people who can live without wild things and some who cannot. I am one of those who cannot."

This young visitor seemed to have the heart of Aldo Leopold. It was a vital thing for me to witness. It was fruit that made all of the planning, design and construction worth while.

The Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus was designed for the people of Southeast Missouri -- young and old alike. Every exhibit, every concept, every feature had the citizen's interest in mind. It took a long time to get to this point. Eight years of hard work by many people with no reward until the public was welcomed in.

But that is what conservation work is all about -- working for the future, not the moment.

As I watched Robbie "educate" his grandmother, I knew eight years of no immediate gratification was totally worth it. I humbly look forward to more glimpses of the fruit associated with this nature center.

I realize I will not see some fruit, though.

Conservation work takes time and this facility will make an impact well into the future, even after I am gone -- of that I have no doubt.

But for the moment, I have the chance to witness outdoor enthusiasts like Robbie.

Thanks, Robbie. Your excitement is fuel to another who cannot live without wild things.

A.J. Hendershott is an outreach and education regional supervisor with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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