AN ESCAPE AWAY: A RARE NATURAL HABITAT IN JOPLIN BRINGS A NEW PERSPECTIVE TO EVENTS
By Heather McNeill
The Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center may be like the office in some ways. Activity abounds, and information fills the senses. Some soar, and others slither, while still others just try to blend into their surroundings. But there, the similarities end.
For most visitors to the Audubon Center, the office will seem to be a faraway place, indeed. Instead of computers or spreadsheets, a small dry erase board lists the day’s avian sightings, which usually include birds common to Missouri such as robins, blue birds and red-wing blackbirds, as well as more unusual beauties like scarlet tanagers. Rather than a row of cubicles, the main exhibit area is dotted with aquariums, each with a diverse sampling of the area’s native wildlife, including red-eared slider turtles, a tarantula and Eastern collared lizards.
The center is far from an ordinary meeting space, but that’s what makes it a unique site for a retreat, team building or a company picnic, according to Robin McAlester, Executive Director of the center. “If a group met a goal, it would be a great place to meet,” she adds.
With its technological capabilities and direct access to nature, the center offers an environment that can inspire, educate and relax meeting-goers. But lest you think the center is only a bucolic backdrop for a meeting, let the origins of this intriguing locale tell the whole story.
UNIQUE HABITAT, MODERN DESIGN
In its short history, the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center has much to boast about. Since its opening in 2007, the center has brought visitors from many states and other countries who have been interested in exploring the exhibits and the 27 well-preserved acres of chert glade that surround the center. Chert, otherwise known as flint, is found in bedrock form in this habitat, of which only about 60 acres of its kind remain on earth.
The Missouri chapter of the Audubon Society can be credited for leading the grassroots effort to preserve the habitat. Meeting the call of the national organization to protect areas of biodiversity in each state, the local chapter convinced its parent organization to take interest in the area, which is not only rich in bird species but also various mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile and plant species.
Partnering with the City of Joplin and the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Audubon Society opened the center in 2007 with much popular support, not only because the partnership succeeded in preserving the habitat, but because it created an ecologically-friendly and innovative building design. Determined to have as little impact on the environment as possible and meet U.S. Green Building Council Silver L.E.E.D certification standards, builders used low-impact materials, including flooring made from recycled milk containers and insulation from recycled newspapers. The roof literally “blooms” with native grasses and flowers, helping to preserve the wetland environment by collecting rainwater that would otherwise end up as runoff into nearby Shoal Creek.
NATURAL MEETING SPACES, INSIDE AND OUT
With all of the attention to the natural environment and innovative design, it’s no wonder that the center offers several options that incorporate natural beauty and modern amenities for meeting planners. Inside the building, three rooms seating up to 30 people each can be rented individually. Alternatively, these rooms can be combined to accommodate larger groups. When expanded into one room, the area can seat up to 130 people theater style.
A projector is available in the room, as are microphones, a podium and DVD/VCR player. A kitchen directly across from the indoor meeting area offers attendees easy access during breaks and provides ample working space for an outside caterer. All of the rooms have large windows that look out on the stunning scenery.
“The nice thing about here, rather than a hotel, is that it is kind of an escape away,” McAlester says. “The classrooms overlook the glade, and during break time participants can wander the exhibit hall or can walk the trails.”
If you prefer to hold a meeting outdoors, the facility provides amenities there as well. Gazebos designed with a contemporary flair and bench seating can accommodate 20 to 30 people. One gazebo near the building offers easy access to bathrooms and the exhibit hall. Another gazebo provides a more open-air feel along the banks of the creek.
The opportunity to explore is one of the center’s best features and gives attendees the chance to re-charge, relax and learn. Attendees can lose track of time at a window overlooking numerous feeders, identifying birds with the center’s field guides or a large, beautifully illustrated copy of one of John James Audubon’s books. They can observe the small animals in the aquariums or walk the three miles of nature trails, which will soon be expanded to seven miles. The historic Redings Mill Bridge can also be reached from the nature trails. All of the center’s exhibits are disabled-accessible, as is a portion of the trails.
If a more structured program is desired, the center can arrange that as well. For an additional change, the center can structure a 10-minute or longer program about Missouri wildlife. For example, “The educational staff could offer an educational environmental program if you wanted to learn about Missouri snakes, or Missouri fish,” says McAlester.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Meeting planners who have used the facility for their own events have taken advantage of the creative options afforded by the environment and educational programs for team-building activities or events for families. Cathy White, District Sales Manager and Vice President of UMB in Joplin, who is also on the board of the center, has chosen the locale for several of her bank’s meetings because of the combination of amenities and natural scenery that can make an event both efficient and special.
“The setting was optimal. All of the equipment we needed was there. It was a glorious place to be,” White says. Attendees have been pleased as well. “Some of the comments we received from participants was that is was refreshing, relaxing and motivating.”
Fred Osborn, President of Commerce Bank Joplin, has also been pleased with his group’s experience at the center. “Not only is it attractive for people to see, it gives people from all over Southwest Missouri and Kansas a sense of what the Audubon Center is all about,” Osborn says. He adds that the center’s staff was very helpful in accommodating the group and assisting with their audiovisual equipment needs.
Describing the view of the chert glades from the education room where the meeting took place, Osborn emphasizes perhaps the greatest benefit of the center. “It’s just unique,” he says. “And by being unique, you hope that people will jump outside the box and look at things a little bit differently.”
Sometimes, a day in nature is all it takes to gain this different perspective, and what better place than one of earth’s rare landscapes. MM&E
(Heather McNeil is a contributor from Kansas City, Mo.)
The Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center
201 W Riviera Drive, Suite A
Joplin, MO 64804
At a Glance
Type of Facility: Nature Center
Group size this facility is able to accommodate: 10-130
Special Features/Amenities: Exhibits, hiking trails, and educational programs available; indoor/outdoor locations
Are group rates/discounts available? No
Is the facility disabled-accessible? Yes
Price Range: Whole seminar room: $100 for the first three hours; $75 each additional hour
One or two classrooms: $35 for the first three hours; $20 each additional hour
Gazebo: $40 for four hours ($10/hour)