Getting to the great outdoors: New nature center puts wildlife on display

Sunday, February 19, 2006
Located between Jackson and Cape Girardeau, the 20,000-square-foot nature center at Cape County Park North opened in 2005. (Southeast Missourian)

The alligator snapping turtle may be the biggest draw, or perhaps the "glass" shrimp in floor-to-ceiling aquariums.

But there's also the kid-friendly beaver dam to crawl through and the constantly active bee hive.

Whatever the favorite feature, the Missouri Department of Conservation's new nature center will likely have seen nearly 60,000 visitors by the time its one-year anniversary rolls around in May.

"It's a wonderful resource for families for conservation education," said nature center manager April Dozier."We want people to get involved in conservation activities and issues, want them to find a connection with the land. We want people outdoors, and we really provide opportunities for that."

The $4.75 million center in Cape Girardeau County Park North includes classrooms, a 160-seat auditorium and nature-inspired exhibits that offer hands-on learning opportunities for people of all ages.

There are programs that teach fishing and hunting, how to spot owls, how to clean fish, tie flies and just about anything a person would need to know about the outdoors. The programs include night-time events and craft activities.

The center is also home to several types of wildlife, from turtles and fish to snakes and bugs. Last fall, the nature center gained an unexpected family member when a Delta youth donated a two-headed snake he found in his back yard.

"We're very busy. I think it's really exciting how it's taken off," said Dozier.

The facility covers 20,000 square feet and also houses an American Indian artifact and primitive tool display, a trapper cabin replica and a scientific research laboratory.

A swamp exhibit shows what Southeast Missouri was like when the big river flooded the forests. A camping exhibit features the back end of an SUV, which conservationists will use to teach about necessary camping supplies.

The fish exhibits along one wall have drawers under the displays. Inside the drawer are the types of lures fishermen would use to catch those kinds of fish. A 2-mile nature trail system, to be called White Oak Trace, complements the nature center. The trail, funded with a grant, accommodates those in wheelchairs.

Krista Kovach, the statewide conservation exhibit coordinator, said what makes the Cape Girardeau center at Cape County Park North different from other conservation facilities around the state is that it's based on outdoor skills.

"This one is activity-based," Kovach said. "The others around the state are mostly about habitat."

The center houses an American Indian artifact and primitive tool display, a trapper cabin replica, three classrooms, the auditorium and a scientific research laboratory.

There are monthly programs for adults and children of various age groups as well.

Regular hours at the center will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday and closed Monday.

The center will celebrate its one-year anniversary May 13 with a special migratory bird program and other events, said Dozier.

335-6611, extension 128

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