For the Love of Pine

Ask someone from the Ozarks

about their home, and you may be in for a long conversation as they describe the height and gentle swaying rhythm of pine trees that could almost lull them to sleep.

In the middle of those pines, halfway between Sikeston and Springfield on Highway 60, is a 452-acre outdoor classroom known as the Twin Pines Conservation Education Center. Missouri’s only rural nature center, Twin Pines CEC has hosted more than 26,000 visitors since its opening on January 1, 2008.

Representative of the center’s growing popularity is its recent recognition from Rural Missouri magazine. The ninth annual Best of Rural Missouri 2010 edition listed Twin Pines CEC as Southeast Missouri’s “Best Outdoor Adventure” and praised the education center for placing special emphasis on the history of the Ozarks’ timber industry.

Featuring opportunities for hiking, birding, nature photography and other nature-related activities, Twin Pines also has a trail through the area providing access to pine-oak woodland and several other forest types. The history of the Ozarks’ timber industry is a continuing theme throughout the exhibits because of the center’s location in the midst of some of Missouri’s most productive forests. Center Manager Melanie Carden-Jessen says the facility design is focused on portraying the Ozarks as it might have been seen by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft when he first documented the landscape in 1818 and 1819.

“We understand that we’ll never see the 7-foot-diameter pine that was here then, but we can help people manage their forests today so they’re healthy and support a diversity of wildlife,” she says. This is accomplished in part by providing demonstration areas of the various management techniques and with exhibits of glade, stream and cave habitats because they’re typical throughout the Ozark region.

It’s this combination of the region’s varying landscape and the community needs met by the center that makes Carden-Jessen believe Twin Pines CEC is in the perfect location.

“It may look like we’re in the middle of nowhere,” she says, “but in fact we’re able to fill in a gap for communities and so many rural schools in the area.”

"Schools often bring busses of students on a two-hour drive to attend programs like History Comes Alive and Heritage Days,” she says.

This is why, when students take a field trip to Twin Pines, it’s usually a whole-day affair, according to Carden-Jessen. “They get to fish, shoot bows, hike and take part in fun