Volunteers with the Wildcat Glades Friends Group were commended Monday night by Joplin city officials for their work to reestablish the local nature center and Wildcat Park.
A number of the volunteers watched as the City Council gave first-round approval to two ordinances that will set up new lease for the renamed Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center and give the friends group a role in maintaining and operating Wildcat Park. Final council action is expected at the panel's next meeting.
City Attorney Peter Edwards explained to the council that one ordinance terminates the lease with the National Audubon Society, which a year ago announced that it was withdrawing from operation of the nature center. It establishes a new lease between the city and the Missouri Department of Conservation.
A second ordinance provides an agreement between the city and the friends group for maintaining the park and the nature center trails.
Joplin's parks director, Paul Bloomberg, said the new arrangement is exciting.
"They are going to be a huge asset to us," Bloomberg said of the friends group. They have been working together on a number of projects, including maintenance work on the trails, cleaning trash from the park and partnering for an Earth Day celebration.
"That's a beautiful area down there," said Steve Gaarder, president of the nonprofit friends group. "We have great passion for the glades area. Joplin is lucky to have a 3 1/2-mile trail that goes around a river (Shoal Creek), a spring, a nature center and a beautiful overlook of Shoal Creek at the Redings Mill bridge."
Under the agreements, the group will conduct educational nature activities, operate the nature center's gift shop and maintain the trails and park. In return, it can use the property to generate revenue for the costs of those activities. Gaarder thanked Bloomberg for his help and recognized the friends group members and board and program director, Robin Standridge.
He said the work at the nature center is intended to enhance the quality of life for Joplin residents and attract new business and residents.
Aaron Jeffries, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Conservation, said a lot of questions were asked of the department when it found it had inherited the center "and there was only one decision and that was to find a way to make it work." He said it has worked out because of the determination of the Conservation Commission, some key state legislators who helped and the friends group volunteers.
He also commended the city staff and parks department for their work.
"I don't know if you all remember the movie 'The Money Pit,' but as we dug into renovating the facility we continued to find a few more issues and challenges," he said. "I do hope the community can remain patient as we hope to open the facility later on."
Some of those problems have included a leaking roof and a broken aquarium.
Jeffries said he still does not know when the center will open. He told the Globe last week there will be allocations in the department's budgets for the next two fiscal years for repairs.
• A resolution establishing the Joplin Arts District for marketing purposes of the downtown area was authorized. Mayor Pro Tem Ryan Stanley commended the work of arts advocate Linda Teeter and other artists and arts supporters for their work in supporting the effort.
• Assignment of four part-time police officer positions and other staff changes at the Joplin Regional Airport were OK'd to accommodate current and anticipated new airline traffic there.
• A set of zoning codes that will allow medical marijuana to be sold in appropriately zoned areas was authorized by a unanimous 9-0 vote after hearing from three people who spoke in favor during a public hearing.