WHEN — 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday & Sunday WHERE — 2038 W. Missouri 86, Lampe, Mo. COST — Single-day adult admission starts at $18; annual memberships start at $50 INFO — 877-459-5687 or dogwood canyon.org
The hand of Johnny Morris is everywhere in southwestern Missouri, from the original Bass Pro Shops location to the Wonders Of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium next door in Springfield to Dogwood Canyon Nature Park in Lampe. All of them actually owe their existence to Johnny’s father, John, who inspired his passion for the outdoors and conservation. Morris grew up fishing on the White River with his family and started Bass Pro in 1971, selling tackle from a shelf in his father’s Brown Derby liquor store in Springfield.
“In a world increasingly disconnected from the great outdoors, it’s more important than ever for people of all ages to connect with nature through fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation,” Shelby Stephenson, a spokeswoman for Morris’ attractions, said when Wonders of Wildlife opened.
“His passion for inspiring everyone to connect with the great outdoors combined with his desire to conserve the rich history of the Ozarks inspired his vision for Dogwood Canyon Nature Park,” she adds, where Morris started gathering up parcels of property starting with 2,260 acres in 1990. “His dedication to conserving and restoring the natural Ozarks environment became the cornerstone for creating the private not-for-profit wilderness experience,” Stephenson says.
“Shortly after the property was purchased, an ancient burial was discovered near what is now the entrance of the park,” Stephenson says in answer to a question about Native Americans in southwestern Missouri. “Buried within a cave crevice in a bluff, human remains were discovered which carbon-dated to 960 A.D.
“In 1993, a team of archaeologists discovered three additional human burials within one of the park’s many caves,” she adds. “One of the most exciting discoveries from radio-carbon dating was that one of the burials dated back to 6000 B.C. This is believed to be the oldest human skeleton ever dated in the state of Missouri.
“The land was also occupied during the 19th century, as settlers’ cabins on the property have dated back to the 1830s. Later, during World War I, mining for lead and zinc took place at Hobbs Creek at Dogwood Canyon.”
According to Stephenson, the Dogwood Canyon property was “virtually unattended for several years prior to Johnny Morris’ involvement, leading to severe degradation of the area’s wildlife resources. Over the past 20 years the quantity and quality of the wildlife population has increased dramatically and is enjoyed by thousands of guests every year.”
So what, one might wonder, is there to do at Dogwood Canyon? Stephenson says whatever your age and whatever your level of comfort outdoors, you’ll find the perfect entertainment.
“Dogwood Canyon is the ultimate destination for everyone who wants to spend time outdoors — from the avid birdwatcher to novice hiker,” she says. “The park is a popular day-trip destination for families and couples, but it is also frequented by hobbyists like wildlife photographers and birders.”
Stephenson says the two-hour Wildlife Tram Tour “offers visitors a ‘ride on the wild side’ and is perfect for guests from ages 2 to 92.”
“You’ll wind through the canyon floor, past towering bluffs and waterfalls, and make stops at the 1800s-style Hope Wilderness Chapel, Thunder Falls Crossing to feed the fish, and the Glory Hole, a magnificent blue-green pool where some of our largest trout reside,” she says. “Then, cross the Arkansas border and enter the prairie pastures where you’ll encounter some of the largest residents of Dogwood Canyon like American bison, Rocky Mountain elk, whitetail deer and Texas longhorns.”
Right now, the Nature Center is closed due to covid-19 concerns, but when it is open, Stephenson says, it provides “a hands-on immersive learning experience for kids and kids-at-heart.”
“Archaeology dig pits allow visitors to explore for common Ozarks fossils, and science stations with microscopes let you take a closer look at leaves, feathers and snake skin sheds,” she enumerates. “Learning continues inside three classrooms with immersive details like a crawl-through bear cave for brave explorers. A swinging bridge connects to the two-story Treehouse built by Animal Planet’s ‘Treehouse Masters,’ full of fun surprises like arrowheads, turkey calls, deer sheds and more.”
The Treehouse is open, as is Dogwood Canyon’s Canyon Grill Restaurant built right on Indian Creek. There are no overnight accommodations, but Stephenson points visitors toward Big Cedar Lodge and Camp Long Creek.
Of course, Mother Nature has her own schedule, which continues coronavirus or no coronavirus.
“In the spring, visitors flock to see the early season blooms of the redbud and dogwood trees,” Stephenson says. “In the summer months, you can welcome the newest additions to the park on a Wildlife Tram Tour, where you’ll see the baby bison and elk born in June. In the fall, spectacular autumn foliage paints the canyon in vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. In the winter months, dozens of bald eagles settle into the canyon from nearby Table Rock Lake, offering the closest wild bald eagle viewing experience anywhere in the Ozarks.”
Stephenson points out that the Wildlife Tram Tour is operating on reduced capacity due to covid-19 concerns, and “advance reservations are strongly encouraged.”
Print Headline: Explore The Great Outdoors