Explore Painted Rock Conservation Area at Westphalia.
With school out and vacation plans in full swing, the Missouri Department of Conservation encourages people to discover nature through a summer “staycation.” This easy and inexpensive alternative to air travel or days in the car lets you stay home or close to it, and venture out for day-trips.
Explore nature near you
Enjoy hiking, biking, boating, horseback riding, walking the woods, picnics, fishing, camping, watching wildlife, or other outdoor activities? The Department of Conservation provides nearly 1,000 conservation areas around the state that offer a variety of outdoor adventure options.
Learn more about the outdoors at Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center.
And there’s at least one within a 30-minute drive from wherever you are in Missouri. Our nature centers are also great places to discover nature with friends and family. Explore the trails to see a wide variety of native wildlife and habitats. Then cool down in the air conditioned buildings while you explore indoor displays on all kinds of critters and outdoor attractions.! And it’s all FREE!
Find your conservation-area or nature-center getaway through our Online Atlas. You can search by region, county or desired activity.
You also can discover nature as you staycation right in your own backyard. Need some ideas? Play a game of “I spy” and use our online Field Guide to help identify plants and animals you encounter. Check out our Field Guide.
Need some other outdoor activities for kids? Check out the Stuff To Do from our Xplor magazine and website. Howl at the Moon as you learn to mimic nighttime animal sounds. Build butterfly bombs. Make a milkweed bracelet. Bag a big bug. Build a fort.
As you discover things to do in nature, here are a few “don’ts” to remember.
Don’t move a mussel: Zebra mussels are an invasive species that wreak havoc and cause destruction to wildlife, waterways and watercraft. These fingernail-sized, black-and-white mollusks already are established in Lake Taneycomo, Bull Shoals Reservoir, Lake of the Ozarks, Lake Lotawana, the Osage, Missouri and Mississippi rivers and the mouth of the Meramec River.
Boaters and anglers who use their boats in more than one lake or stream are urged to remove any clinging vegetation, drain and inspect boats and trailers for zebra mussels and allow them to dry for at least five days before re-launching in a new location. Flushing live wells, bilges and motor cooling systems with hot water or chlorine bleach also is important. Find out more at our website.
Don’t dump bait: Even Missourians who plan close-to-home “staycations” can unwittingly contribute to invasive species problems. An excellent example is taking fishing bait from one place to another. Even catching crayfish in a pond or stream near home and taking them to a fishing spot a few miles away could cause serious ecological problems.
Different crayfish species have very specific distributions. Moving one species into the next watershed can put larger, more aggressive crayfish in competition with native crayfish and crowd them out. Over time, that leads to loss of biological diversity and undermines the stability of aquatic ecosystems. Worms, minnows, crickets and other bait purchased from bait shops also pose potential threats to Missouri’s wild resources. Invasive species sometimes slip into the bait supply chain, and once they are loose they can multiply.
Don’t dump bait! The only safe thing to do with live bait is to send it to the landfill. If there is a receptacle with a plastic bag at your fishing spot, you can put unused bait there. Otherwise, take it home and put it out with the rest of your trash.
Don’t move firewood: The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is a green beetle that has caused millions of dollars of damage across the Northeastern United States and the Upper Midwest by killing ash trees. Its habit of tunneling beneath tree bark, coupled with Americans’ love of camping and campfires, has caused the pest to spread more rapidly than it might have otherwise. Campers who take firewood with them from home or from one campsite to another can carry EAB larvae, which emerge and infest new areas.
Campers can avoid spreading EABs – along with other forest pests or diseases such as the gypsy moth and thousand-cankers disease of black walnut trees – by obtaining firewood in areas where they camp and burning it all before leaving. Even moving firewood from one campground to another in the same neighborhood can spread parasites and diseases. Campers who accidentally move firewood should burn it immediately. Get more info at our website.
Find more ways to discover nature in Missouri during a summer staycation or all throughout the year at mdc.mo.gov.
Written by Joe Jerek of the Missouri Department of Conservation.