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.
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!).
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.
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 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).
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.
Christine is a Chicago native and has lived in Joplin for almost two decades. Growing up in the Windy City, she loved to explore the wide variety of museums, restaurants, sports venues, theaters and parks. When she moved to Joplin her goal was to learn about the unique culture and attractions in the area. Now Christine discovers new things each week, whether it be a little-known park, a new restaurant or a community event. Joplin can be just as exciting as a major city if you dive in to all the community has to offer.