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Like all fungi, the delicious morels popping up this time of year are the fruit sprouting from the hidden hyphae in the soil. To use tree roots as an analogue for the hyphae would be an inappropriate comparison. Instead, you can imagine the entire apple tree is buried beneath the soil, absorbing nutrients, living, growing, until it is time to reproduce. At this point, the apple tree would make apples and the apples themselves would be the only thing to emerge above the surface of the soil. So it is that during this growing season, we see a huge variety of fungal fruit popping up out of nowhere to decorate the forests and fields of the ozarks with wild and otherworldly shapes and colors.

The Watershed Center is exhibiting a similar pattern of growth after the first few warm, rainy days this year. Field trips are underway and the park is busy. Today, we entertained college students studying birds and streams, onsite wastewater installers studying proper techniques that protect our water, second graders from Willard that studied the wild world around them, and local professionals in the Leadership Springfield program studying quality of life in the Ozarks. We have been buzzing with activity and popping our heads above the surface to engage the public during this earth month.

The second cool thing about hyphae is that they make vast connections throughout the forest floor that can connect one mushroom to another over several feet or even across miles. The largest organism on earth is a fungus, a type of honey mushroom in Oregon that spans over two miles. One organism, two miles across. Have a look. If one part of the fungus is lacking in a nutrient or mineral, it can get it from other parts of the fungus, all through the hyphae. Imagine if your head could be at work, your body in an easy chair, and your hands at the grocery store, and every part of you is capable of eating food! Actually…nevermind. Stop thinking about that. I am getting grossed out.

This same connectedness can be seen at the Watershed Center. There are many fibers woven in and out of this site and our mission to connect people to the water resources we are trying to protect. All of our strengths are unique and benefit the whole water loving conservation minded organism. We are one massive growth that continues to expand and find resources for our own survival and the survival of our clean water.

This massive growth came into focus last Friday. Mike and Kelly and Stacey had the idea to have a going away party for me as I prepare to move up to Columbia. I elected to have a work day party so that we could knock out some trail work and then have lunch together. Close to fifty people got together to pull weeds, move gravel, and spruce up the place and then we all had an amazing barbecued lunch provided by our friend Larry Randolph. While I was excited to see everyone there, I wanted to mention a few to give you perspective.

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Erica Cox and Janice Greene knew me as a college student and have seen me move around in this water community for the past seven or eight years. Greg Swick and Charlie Burwick knew me first as a camp RA at the first ever GLADE camp for high school students at Bull Shoals Lake. If you don’t know about GLADE, you should. Laurie Duncan was my boss at the Discovery Center of Springfield. Todd Wagner has partnered with me on Jordan Creek cleanups as an employee of the city and on coordinating tours around the cleanup site downtown as City Utilities man. Kelly Herman and Tiffany Fry gave me my first volunteer opportunities in the world of water education. Loring Bullard retired just before I came on but has remained active in our mission. Brent Stock was my first intern. Jay Barber and Kara Tweet have been my connection to the Department of Conservation, helping manage our fish and field trips out here since before I started. Bob Kipfer, Mort Shurtz, Bob Korpella, and many other representatives of the Missouri Master Naturalists have helped me on countless field trips as part of their second careers as passionate environmental educators. There were more people from all parts of my life in Springfield, especially professionally. Invisible fibers connect us all, one to another, in a vast network of sharing and mutualism benefiting the whole.

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As I look ahead to my move to Columbia, I am counting on these fibers to stretch more than a couple of miles. My community, my people, down here in the Ozarks have been instrumental in my professional and personal development and in the development of the Watershed Center. It is hard to say enough about all you have done to help us, and me, but thank you nonetheless.


-Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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