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Education at the Watershed Center

Education at the Watershed Center

At the Watershed Center, we strive to provide age-appropriate, place-based education about our water resources. Some groups come to enjoy the Park–The Watershed Center is located at Valley Water Mill Park, which is open from sunrise to sunset every day (except Christmas…). Casual visitors can learn about the site through interpretive signage and kiosks located around the park.

Often, school groups, professional groups, and community groups want a more formal experience like a field trip or workshop. The Watershed Committee employs an education and outreach coordinator to help such groups plan an educational experience at the Watershed Center.

If you are interested in a field trip or workshop, the next step is to schedule online.

The education menu below lists some of the activities we commonly do with groups that visit the Watershed Center.

STEAM Residencies

Offered in conjunction with the Springfield Art Museum, this option includes two classroom visits as well as field trips to the Springfield Art Museum and the Watershed Center located at Valley Water Mill Park.  Observation and documentation are fundamental to the fields of both science and art.   Using skills and practices drawn from both disciplines, students will observe, investigate, and document local ecosystems.  Apply on the Springfield Art Museum’s website under STEAM Residencies HERE.


We know making a field trip happen is not easy, so here are some things that might help. First, we are honored to have a dedicated group of volunteers who, with enough advance notice, can assist in the activities. This is especially helpful in accommodating larger groups and reducing the number of students per group. We have bus parking, multiple restrooms, and water fountains.

Water Sampling (Chemical)

Water chemistry sampling is an essential tool in assessing the quality of water. Drinking water, wastewater, and water in the environment are frequently sampled for various chemicals such as Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, heavy metals, sediment, and other chemicals. At the Watershed Center, we can provide the chemical kits and instructions for essential water sampling and help explain what the test results mean.

Water Sampling (Biological)

Biological water sampling is an important tool for scientists and citizens to determine the essential “health” of our streams and rivers. The Watershed Center has a Missouri Stream Team that routinely monitors the South Dry Sac creek at our streamside learning station. We can provide the equipment and instruction to take a biological survey and help identify the macroinvertebrates (creek critters) you will catch!

Project WET (Water Education for Teachers)

The mission of Project WET is to reach children, parents, teachers, and community members of the world with water education. Project WET achieves its mission of worldwide water education by publishing water resource materials in several languages, providing training workshops on diverse water topics (i.e., watersheds, water quality, water conservation), organizing community water events, such as Make a Splash with Project WET water festivals and the Global Water Education Village™, building a worldwide network of educators, water resource professionals, and scientists. If you are interested in sampling WET activities with your class or becoming a trained Facilitator, the Watershed Center can help.

Introduction to Stream Ecology

Learning about how a stream’s living and non-living parts interact is an essential subject at all education levels. Ozark streams are the most biologically diverse freshwater streams in the country. We love them for recreation and rely on them for our drinking water! So let us help you and your group learn about our little Ozark Stream, the South Dry Sac, at the Watershed Center.

Karst Topography

We live in Springfield, that’s right, Spring…Field. Springs and other Karst features result from our limestone landscape, as does our plentiful groundwater, critical for drinking water, irrigation, and industry in Southwest Missouri. At the Watershed Center, we display the four characteristic karst features: caves, springs, sinkholes, and a losing stream. Indeed, we have a microcosm of the Ozarks at our fingertips, and we are not afraid to teach about it!

Groundwater 101

Groundwater is one of the most important and least visible resources in Southwest Missouri. Thousands of private wells are currently in use in Greene County, and many neighboring communities like Republic, Nixa, Willard, and Rogersville rely almost entirely on groundwater for their municipal water source. Understanding our aquifers is vital to ensuring our groundwater is clean and plentiful for years to come. The Watershed Center demonstrates aquifer recharge techniques like rain gardens, pervious pavement, and bioswales and also includes monitoring wells and Karst features for hands-on learning opportunities.

Watershed 101

What is a watershed? That question is a basis for keeping our rivers, lakes, and, ultimately, our drinking water clean. At the Watershed Center, we have a variety of ways to communicate to visitors and students what a watershed is, including the enviroscape model, the stream trailer, and, oh yes, a real live watershed to muck around in.

Enviroscape (watershed model)

The Enviroscape is a suitcase-size model of a watershed that can be an effective teaching tool to make the connection of how what people do in the watershed can impact their waterways. Usually, the model is used by simulating different types of pollution in a watershed and then discussing “better practices” to prevent pollution from entering our waterways.


Stream Table

In partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Watershed Center acquired a stream table. Essentially, this demonstration is like a sandbox on wheels with a re-circulating water stream that flows over the table. But don’t let this simple description fool you; it shows the physical functions of a river and watershed interactions very clearly. Erosion, the effects of gravel mining, riparian cover, siltation, habitat, and more are all in full view. This exhibit can also be transported to schools or events.

Pond Life

Loren Eisley said, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” A single drop of water from Valley Water Mill Lake can be a very interesting study, likely containing a whole ecosystem that can barely even be seen. We can help provide equipment and instruction to examine the world beneath the surface. The fishing piers on the lake make a handy “research station.”

Watershed Center Scavenger Hunt

The Watershed Center Scavenger hunt is an excellent activity that incorporates map reading, physical exercise, and learning. Participants usually break up into small groups/teams and are given the map and clues. The information for the clues comes from the interpretive signs located throughout the site.

Green Building/Green Site Tour

The Watershed Center is a demonstration of green practices like Low Impact Development, Green Building, and Stormwater Best Management Practices. Take the tour to learn about the practice we have used and get ideas for your own home or office.

Volunteer/Service projects

There is always work to do at the Watershed Center. If you have a group interested in volunteering, contact the Watershed Center, and we can probably find a project to fit your group. Some common volunteer activities are litter pick-ups, trail work, and tree planting.

Nature Unleashed

Fun is in your students’ nature, and Nature Unleashed helps them get outside and explore it. Our new education unit for third- to fifth-graders has colorful, engaging student books and teacher guides. Field-tested activities are aligned with Missouri’s grade-level expectations so that you can use them with confidence. Using Nature Unleashed (NU) makes you a part of our Discover Nature Schools program, which provides training, funding opportunities, and other benefits. (Description from Missouri Department of Conservation)

Most Nature Unleashed trips to the Watershed begin with a “welcome to the Watershed” address, and then students divide into groups to do different NU activities throughout the site. With advance planning, Watershed Center volunteers can usually help with your day by running activity stations or guiding students around the Watershed Center. Most trips end with a brown bag school lunch and an ending keynote about water conservation and recycling.

Jordan Creek Underground Tours (Downtown)

It’s an adventure similar to a cave tour. Once you have walked through the graffiti-covered passages of the once-pristine Jordan Creek, you and your group will never see a storm drain the same way. The tour offers opportunities to learn about the water history of our city, to reflect on how we have treated waterways in the past, and to think about how to treat them in the future. The recommended age is 15 and older.

Special water-related programs–as needed

Our Mission is to protect our drinking water and help people understand the resources critical to that end. Watershed Center Coordinator Jeff Birchler can assist you in designing a trip to the Watershed Center to meet the goals of the group and incorporate water education into the experience.