The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

December 7, 2012

Our View: Protecting a slice of the Ozarks

GALENA, Kan. — When we think Ozarks, we seldom think Kansas. But just a few miles on the other side of the state line exists a place where 30 percent of the endangered species in Kansas live.

Now there’s concern that the information vehicle for the area could be on that endangered list.

The Southeast Kansas Nature Center in Galena sits on top of a hill that overlooks Schermerhorn Park and Shoal Creek. The city of Galena maintains the park, but about 10 years ago a group of 30 or so volunteers — many of them retirees — converted a cabin into a nature center.

They brought in displays and donations. Volunteers worked on the trails that take visitors along the hillsides. Help arrived from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to the tune of $15,000 and will do so again in the next fiscal year.

Volunteers are now appealing to KDWPT to assume daily operations of the nature center.

Beyond preserving an Ozark jewel, the appeal makes sense economically for Galena. There’s no doubt that Schermerhorn Park is a destination, one that could draw visitors into a town that is working to transform its downtown area to bring new attention to its Route 66 heritage.

A proposal that would turn operations of the nature center over to the state also ensures that the many busloads of schoolchildren are getting good information about the area.

Even if KDWPT does take over the center, we would urge a strong volunteer presence. That passion is the driving force behind the nature center, and will continue to be needed.

Years from now, we want to be assured that the unique salamanders found in a spring in Schermerhorn Cave are still there. We want the acres of oaks and shagbark hickories to continue to grow alongside the trails.

And we will want a nature center that will tell the story of this small slice of the Ozarks. We would urge KDWPT to help create that future.

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