Exhibits at Cape nature center near completion

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The river aquarium holds no water or fish, and the beehive isn't buzzing.

A replica of an alligator gar is a fish out of water, lying on a wooden crate.

And some of the soon-to-be exhibits are still nothing more than sheet rock, ready for paint.

Cape Girardeau County's new nature center isn't yet ready for visitors, but it is coming alive on a daily basis.

The Missouri Department of Conservation Commission was in town Thursday and Friday for meetings. While the commission was here, it was offered a sneak peek at the 20,000-square-foot nature center that could draw as many as 100,000 visitors per year to Cape County Park North.

Several of the exhibits are nearly finished, and all of them are aimed at teaching visitors about how people used the land in the past and how they can enjoy it now. And they're all centered on things or animals or places you can see in Southeast Missouri now or could have seen centuries ago.

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.

Most of the building construction is finished. Most of the work to be done is with the exhibits.

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

For instance, 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.

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

April Dozier, the former assistant manager at the nature center in southwest Missouri, is the new manager at the Cape Girardeau facility. She is busy coordinating educational programs and preparing for the opening ceremonies planned for May 14 and 15.

The Southeast facility will be a bit larger and feature more updated equipment than the Springfield nature center, she said. But the educational mission of the two centers is the same.

"This is going to be a great resource for Southeast Missouri," Dozier said.

There will be classes on skinning squirrels, archery and a lot of outdoor activities, especially for children.

Dozier said it was her experience in Springfield that the popularity didn't wear off after the newness did.

"If anything, it builds," she said. "It travels by word-of-mouth. Once the people find out about the facility, and they have a good time, they'll keep coming back."

The state's conservation commissioners seemed pleased with the progress and look.

"I'm really pleased," said Steve Bradford, a Cape Girardeau resident who is on the five-member commission appointed by the governor. "I think people will be impressed with the impact this will have on the education in the region."



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