We have become the generation Aldo Leopold feared.
Nearly a century ago, he warned of the danger of a nature-deprived nation, writing that the greatest threat to the outdoors and the outdoor way of life would come from people who had concluded they could live without it.
Nature has been sidelined by relentless work, addictive video games and cellphones, and nonstop school and athletic events. One study found that prisoners who get an hour a day in the "yard" are getting more time outdoors that children today.
The result is a generation who don't know their Dog Star from their blazing star.
That's why we are thrilled to have the nature center back.
Between its opening in 2007 and its closing last summer, when the National Audubon Society withdrew from the partnership that ran it, the nature center in Joplin's Wildcat Park had become a star attraction.
The best estimate is that by its 10-year anniversary in 2017, the nature center had logged nearly a half-million visitors and another 50,000 who came for one of its 1,600 programs.
After it closed last summer, a community event — “Rescue Wildcat Community Forum” — drew hundreds of concerned residents.
We regret that Audubon pulled out of what had been called the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center, and, like the rest of Joplin, were anxious for its fate. Then the Missouri Department of Conservation stepped up, but renovating what will now be known as the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center and upgrading and refocusing its displays took time.
All that ends Friday when it opens to the public. We encourage you to go, to recommit to passing on one of the best of those values of an older way of life — the one that knows the allure of spring-fed Ozark streams in summer, the stories and lessons of old forests in autumn and virgin prairie in spring, and the beauty of sunlit glades on a winter day.
The nature center is an important ally in the fight to reclaim the natural world for the next generation.