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(Photo: News-Leader file photo )

By the end of next week, the giant Solo Cup will be torn down from the front of the large warehouse on Gelnstone Avenue (you can click the photo to go to the article in the News-Leader). To many, this elephantine vessel has become a landmark and a symbol of Springfield industry. As this prominent feature comes down, I am left wondering about other landmarks in our town; what legacy will they leave? Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World represents a local success story, a major economic force in our community, and a destination attraction to many in our region and beyond. I also know that it is home to the educational efforts of the WOLF school and the Wonders of Wildlife, both of which will leave long imprints on the conservation ethic of our youth as they become adults. Discovery Center of Springfield is a downtown hub of education and fun; engaging people in our community and beyond through exploration and curiosity. The various campuses and learning institutions in Springfield; such as Missouri State University, Drury, and OTC; represent a priority of higher education and community engagement, and more and more, they represent strides in sustainability. I wonder what the Watershed Center will be known for in years to come. As I try to travel into the future and look back at the Watershed Center as a community landmark, I wonder what I will see.

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Photo credit: Rob Hunt

Will we be thought of as a great place to fish and hike and enjoy a quick lunch break or will it be thought of as a place to experience genuine connection with nature? Will we be a field trip destination to reward classroom-weary students or a space where lessons learned at the desk come to life in the eyes and ears and hands and feet of the children? Will we be a place of rigid answers or a safe environment to ask questions, to be wrong, even to explore? Will we be a place where teachers come for a day of hectic crowd-control or will they be able to engage their students on a level not available at a smart-board or in a school building? Will we be a place that connects to our community, fosters service opportunities, and contributes to a culture of sustainability and learning for adults as well as children, professionals as well as recreationists? Will we be a strong model for Low Impact Development and environmental stewardship? Will we be a thought leader in water conservation and source water protection?

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CU Employees at the Watershed Center for United Way Day of Caring 2014

We have already become an asset to our community, providing educational opportunities to more than 30 schools and over 2500 kids. We have also provided space for training local and regional water professionals and meetings for dozens of non-profits and businesses. Our site has become hot spot for college and adult volunteer groups who completed 20 work days last year with more than 2000 volunteer hours at our site! We have regular interns in the Spring, Summer, and Fall and many of our former interns have found careers in other local organizations (Environmental Works, Discovery Center, Springfield Public Schools, and MU Extension, to name a few). Local outdoors groups have found a new spot here as they look for birds, identify plants, or run the trails.

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MSU Students after a long work day Photo: Rob Hunt

Since the inception of the Watershed Center, the site has experienced notable improvements and increased attention. In just the last couple of years, we have seen explosive growth in the number of educational opportunities we have been able to offer, hitting an all-time high in 2014. Looking forward to 2015, I want to hone our skills, our message, and our site to fit our mission. We will engage more teachers directly; assessing our effectiveness after the field trip is over. We will spruce up our learning stations and introduce a few that are brand new. We will improve our site by fixing some things that are wearing and increasing our efforts to combat non-native vegetation in the forests, glades, savannahs, and wetlands of the Watershed Center. We will also reach out to the general public with adult programs as well as new efforts in social media (with more videos and pictures!) that will attract more of our community to participate in the exciting world out here at Valley Water Mill Lake.

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Photo: Aaron Scott

I hope you can be involved with us this year. It promises to be a good one and I look forward to watching our Watershed Center, or rather, your Watershed Center, grow into its legacy which is sure to be long-lasting and positive. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.

Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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