The centerpiece of the Conservation Department Headquarters north of Camdenton is an old original fire lookout tower. Although the grounds contain a visitor center with displays showcasing flora and fauna, planting beds containing indigenous plant life, a fully accessible, 600-yard walking trail, and a more rigorous, one-mile trail, the 100-foot tall steel tower in the center drew me like a moth to a flame. My first thought when I saw it last fall was that I had to climb it and take pictures above the canopy of Ozark timber.

One day in May, I lugged a full camera bag up the tower and spent hours photographing the lush green countryside. Hills marching away mile after mile, majestic pine after pine and dense oak layered with shorter redbud and dogwood paint the Ozarks with a vibrant green brush to the horizon line. Looking down upon a fully mature pine tree jolts the senses and delights the eye by the unexpected perspective.

The Department’s exhibit along the walking trail explains how the plains of the west meet the hills of the Ozarks causing a transition area where plant and animal life are unique. The southern sides of the hills receive more sun and thus, are warmer and dryer. The northern side with less sun stays wetter, thus giving rise to a forest environment. The area where plain and woods meet is the Savanna and several animals live in this band.

A Transition
Included on the grounds is a field archery course. The Department supports an Archery in Schools Program and has produced a national 2nd-Place winner
 
Inside the office/ visitor center are a variety of educational resources, including a very helpful staff member, Jodi Moulder.  Native animals, forever young with the help of taxidermy, are everywhere so you can get a real up-close and personal feel for the creatures, an essential lesson in identification. Looking at a Screech Owl, the smallest of the owls, my wife pointed and said, “That is exactly what we saw in the road that night.” 
 
Dozens of brochures, maps, and periodicals line the shelves and racks. All snakes are beneficial, but there are a couple you don’t want to take home as pets so there is a brochure with full color pictures. All spiders are also beneficial, but some are more toxic than others so there is a brochure about them.
 
Some of the larger publications are for sale. We chose A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri. Spiral-bound with 94 pages, this book contains detailed maps and information about each river or stream in the state that is suitable for canoeing, if that is your pleasure. 
The State’s conservation monthly magazine, Missouri Conservationist, contains articles about the department’s work around the state. Its responsibilities include managing the forests, fish and wildlife; educating Missourians; and helping people be outdoors.
 
Conservation generates $12 billion each year in economic impact. One of every four tourism dollars in Missouri is spent on fish and wildlife recreation. These and the forest products industry support 89,000 jobs.
 
I learned all this because I wanted to get that darned fire tower off my bucket list. Now I've added all the department conservation areas to my bucket list.
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