Wildcat Park

Nearly every weekend, I get the urge to get outside and hike. Because I crave variety, I like to switch up the types of hikes that I do, so before I put on my hiking shoes, I think about what type of nature adventure I’d like to have that day.

 

Do I want to take a walk through a shaded forest?

 

Do I want the challenge of navigating rocks that have been made slippery by cascading water?

 

Do I want to follow the banks of Shoal Creek, or do I want to wade and splash in its clear water?

 

Do I want to take a peaceful stroll through unique chert glades?

 

Do I want to climb a bluff and enjoy a breathtaking view?

 

The great thing is, all of these options are available to me in one convenient location right here in Joplin: Wildcat Park.

 

 

Up until 2018, when I said I was “going to Wildcat,” it either meant that I was going to walk the trails in the area known as Wildcat Park, or that I was going to visit the nature center called Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.

 

Today, the center is no longer associated with the Audubon Society, and it no longer has the word “Wildcat” in its name. It’s now called Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, operating under the direction of the Missouri Department of Conservation. So, now when I say I’m “going to Wildcat,” there’s no confusion: it means I’m going to Wildcat Park.

 

Are you still with me?

 

Good. Because this change is a work in progress. In fact, a new map of the trails in Wildcat Park is currently in development, so until that is complete, I’ll be referring to this map, which is from the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Society days.

 

Enough of that. Now, let’s talk trails.

 

If Wildcat Park is your destination, I recommend stopping at the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center before you hike. This nature center is a gem in this area, offering lots of information about the plants and animals that you might encounter on the trails in Wildcat Park.

 

 

Rotary Centennial Trail (.36 miles)

 

If you exit through the rear of the visitor center, you’ll find the hiking trail that takes you through the chert glades.

 

wildcat romping on chert
This colorful rock is called chert.

 

We are fortunate to have access to these rare chert glades right here in Joplin, making a hike along this trail a unique experience. The chert glades ecosystem is actually dry, so don’t be surprised when you spy a cactus sprouting from a rock, a lizard sunbathing, or a scorpion scurrying for cover as you walk along Centennial Trail.

 

wildcat girls on path

 

After the glades, we usually turn left and head towards the bridge that crosses Silver Creek, a tributary of Shoal Creek. The change in scenery is dramatic: from dry, sunny glades to cool, shaded forest.

 

wildcat peaceful water

 

St. John’s Woodland Loop (.33 miles)

 

After the bridge, there’s a nice, flat, ADA-accessible loop trail that meanders through the forest, offering occasional views of Shoal Creek, as well as the tall bluffs that jut out from the sparkling water, demanding admiration.

 

wildcat cliff reach
Admiring the bluff from the woodland loop.

St. John’s Creek Trail (.56 miles)

 

You can access this trail by turning left from the woodland loop, and it will take you along the banks of Shoal Creek, all the way to Redings Mill Bridge. There are several bluff overhangs to explore; you can even peek into a cave entrance on this path. We’ve also been lucky enough to spot a fox along here.

 

Bluff Trail (1.0 mile)

 

We usually access this trail from Castle Drive, which allows us to walk through the woods to access the creek before – or after – the steep climb to the bluff. When the water is low, we like to play in Shoal Creek, and to scan the creek bed for arrowheads.

 

 

We then make the climb to the bluff. The view from here is breathtaking! There are some picnic tables just off the trail where you can eat or rest . You can also park on the road above and walk down to the tables, which is a less strenuous way to go.

 

View from a picnic table on Bluff Trail.

 

Continuing along the trail, you’ll come to one of the most iconic spots in Joplin: Mother Nature’s Gap (many locals replace Gap with Crack when referring to this spot).

 

 

If you’re not up for jumping over the crack to reach the other side, there’s a solid section that will take you there, as well.

 

Wildcat Glade Nature Trail (.2 miles)

 

In writing this post, I realized that this is one trail at Wildcat Park that I’ve never explored. What?! It’s next on my list.

 

Wildcat Spring

 

To access the spring, simply drive to where the road dead-ends, and the spring will be just a few feet away. There are a few steps that lead down to the spring where the water is crystal clear.

 

Just past the spring, you’ll come across a faint path on the right which will take you to a rocky area. When there’s been enough rain, water will cascade down these rocks, creating a waterfall effect.

 

I often forget about this area because we usually spend our time on the other side of the park, but I think this may be my favorite spot because it reminds me of a fairytale forest.

 

With so many different types of landscapes in such a compact area, you can experience a new adventure each time you visit Wildcat Park.

 

Wildcat Park is located at 55th and South Main Street.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center

Thousands of I-44 drivers zoom past it every day, unaware that they are so close to this one-of-a-kind attraction: Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, and the globally unique chert glades that surround it.

 

Located just south of the busy interstate, this center has been one of my family’s favorite places ever since it opened in 2007 as Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.

 

 

In 2018, the center closed after its partnership with the Audubon Society ended, prompting many mopey faces at our house. But the time has come to turn our frowns upside down as the center has reopened with a new name under the direction of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

 

Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center is situated in front of an area containing rare chert glades.

 

The rock in the foreground is chert.

In Missouri the term “glade” is used to describe a place where underlying rock cuts through thin soil to develop its own unique ecosystem. In the area behind the center, the rock that cuts through the soil is chert, which is extremely rare and extremely hard, and it breaks sharply. Like flint, chert was used to make spears and arrows, and archaeologists have found many in the area.

 

The chert glade ecosystem is very dry, and plants that are native to arid climates can grow here (yes, that means prickly pear cacti in Missouri!). These plants also attract wildlife native to arid climates, such as lizards, tarantulas, and scorpions (eek!).

 

This is the rear of the building, which faces the chert glades. 

 

Inside the center, you can learn all about this ecosystem, as well as the wildlife found in nearby Shoal Creek. The center boasts a large aquarium divided into three sections which are designed to show visitors what types of plants and animals are found in various depths of Shoal Creek: the wetlands, riffle, and deep pool areas.

 

 

While the fish in the deep pool section seem a bit skittish, the turtles in the wetlands section love to work the crowd.

 

 

In addition to the aquarium, you’ll find habitats containing reptiles commonly found in the surrounding area, as well as interactive exhibits that educate and entertain kids and adults alike.

 

 

In this exhibit, a red light illuminates whenever you correctly point to a fire hazard using a pen. It reminds me of playing a game of Operation.

 

There are large windows at the rear of the center which look out toward the chert glades, providing a picturesque vantage point from which to watch area birds as they land at the many feeders.

 

The netting helps keep the birds from flying into the glass.

 

The mission of Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center is twofold: to inform visitors about the area’s natural history and resources, and to educate people on how to care for it themselves. The variety of programming that the center provides each month in the classrooms helps to further that goal.

 

Some classes and events, like the Monarch Festival, are open to people of all ages, while other programs, like “Little Acorns: Terrific Trees” and “Reptiles of Missouri” are geared toward children (and sometimes include the opportunity for them to make cute crafts).

 

Turtle craft. 

Monarch craft.

 

The center offers Hunter Education sessions, as well. Click here to see a list of upcoming programs.

 

Before you leave the building, sneak a peek inside the gift shop for further inspiration.

 

We usually pair a visit to the center with an outdoor activity, like eating a meal al fresco at one of the picnic tables,

 

 

exploring the native garden out front (and getting ideas on what we might like to plant in our own yard),

 

 

or walking on the trails that surround the center in the area known as Wildcat Park.

 

 

Having Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center nearby allows us to squeeze in bite-sized snacks of nature on a regular basis, and we always leave with our spirits full.

 

Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center is located at 201 West Riviera Drive.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.