There's No Place Like Close-To-Home

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 13, 2010

Tiny dry seeds grazed my fingertips as I pushed bluestem grasses aside and gazed over the prairie from the trail where I stood. I turned my head to make sure my little shadow was beside me.

“Mom, I can’t see anything!” Rose, my 4-foottall daughter, complained. When she parted the itchy grasses lining the trail she was greeted with an endless sea of stems. We moved on until we found a vantage point we both could enjoy. We lingered there, admiring a field of tall grasses and wildflowers.

We were at the Mark Youngdahl Urban Conservation Area in St. Joseph. I like to think of the area as a park, although it’s not the kind of park where you’d find swings and jungle gyms. This was more of a natural playground. The best thing about it was that it was close to home; in fact it was just across the street from our grocery store.

Some of the busiest streets in the city border the 85-acre area, but it still has a rural feel. You not only can immerse yourself into wild prairie land, but you often get glimpses of wild animals, including white-tailed deer. I especially like the scenic views of rolling hills filled with grasses that sway as one with even a gentle breeze. This area also has ponds and both dusty and paved trails, as well as a picnic shelter.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has conservation areas totaling nearly 800,000 acres throughout the state. Much of this public land is in rural areas and provides excellent opportunities for hunting and fishing. To serve the outdoor needs of people in our larger cities, however, the Department has also established a number of urban conservation areas.

These are not the same as conservation nature centers, which are modern facilities that primarily focus on nature education. Urban conservation areas usually consist of small pockets of land tucked within neighborhoods and suburbs. They focus on allowing people to experience nature—without a lot of frills. They are peaceful places where you can enjoy a daily walk and an afternoon adventure.

They allow people who live in the city to occasionally listen to the songs of the eastern meadowlarks, see wild turkeys strutting in the spring and smell the earthy aroma of forest land. They are also great places for children to learn that creeks don’t stop at the city limits and that

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