Vantage Point

Conservation First

The conservation story in Missouri is filled with "firsts." We were the first state to afford full constitutional protection to a Conservation Department and its programs and budgets. That was followed by being the first state to provide a constitutionally-mandated portion of the state sales tax for conservation purposes.

Another big "first" occurred in August, when we became the first state to break the 1,000 barrier in numbers of stream teams in a state. No one else is even in the ballpark when it comes to our new record and the stream teams' collective accomplishments. This is a wonderful achievement and a credit to the partners and individuals who conceived the concept and nurtured it through thick and thin. Many other states have copied the stream team organization and thrust, but Missourians have forged the way in what is perhaps the nation's largest volunteer effort by a single state.

At our August Commission meeting in Kansas City, Missourians learned about another chance for a major "first" in the conservation field. We now have a new opportunity to join together and spread the message about conservation in the center of a major metropolitan area.

The Discovery Center was introduced to the public by Conservation Commissioner Anita B. Gorman; the Conservation Department's educational supervisor in the Kansas City area, Jeannie Pyland; and Bob Berkebile of the firm of Berkebile, Nelson, Immenschuh, McDowell Architects. The project received immediate endorsement and accolades from foundations, businesses and private citizens. Following the endorsements, the Conservation Commission approved the architect's rendering of the concept and instructed the Conservation Department to pursue the necessary partnerships to make it a reality.

The project is new and different because for the first time we are going to combine all the services we normally provide, the lessons we have learned from working with Missourians and the skills that our people possess collectively into a program in an urban setting. Kansas City's Discovery Center will help people learn conservation skills and integrate conservation principles into their daily lives.

These goals will be achieved in a facility that by its very fiber and construction demonstrates sound conservation principles. The learning center will be solar-powered and will depend on constructed wetlands to purify its own drainage water. The location of the project, situated in the very heart of the city, east of the Plaza, between Troost and Rockhill, also makes the project unique. It brings nature back into an urban environment.

Partnerships will be at the very heart of this project; in fact, the Discovery Center was initially made possible only by a generous offer by the Kauffman Foundation to provide a 75-year lease on 16 acres of land acquired as a part of their new headquarters complex. The facility itself will contain a formal garden maintained by Powell Gardens and a 3-acre fishing and waterfowl pond.

There is a challenge - and an opportunity - for you to be involved in this new "first." The Discovery Center project is estimated to cost about $15.6 million, of which $6 million is contained in the land donation, and $4 million has been made available to the project by Conservation Commission action. That leaves us short about $5.6 million.

We hope to raise this amount in partnership with individuals, foundations and corporations that believe - like us - that this project and facility will make conservation better tomorrow. Launching the Discovery Center is like beginning the Stream Team program or working for the constitutional amendment, or any of the many other projects we have begun together that have helped us lead the state and the nation into a new era of conservation achievement.

If you would like to learn more about the Discovery Center and help us continue Missouri's outstanding record of being "first" in the nation's conservation field, contact Jim Pyland, the Conservation Department's regional information coordinator, at (816) 356-2280, ext. 228.