More than a hundred people gathered at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Center Aug. 8 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
Festivities began at 5:30 p.m. as visitors watched Conservation employees fillet and fry fresh fish. Once removed from the fryer, samples of the long-nose and short-nose gar and Asian carp were distributed to all who wanted a taste.
Inside the building, the first 80 attendees received gift items from the Conservation Department.
Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger praised former County Commissioners Ger-ald Jones and Gene Huckstep for their efforts in bringing the Conservation Center to Cape County.
(Jones told the CBJ that Huckstep was instrumental in bringing the Conservation Office to the County Park; Jones and State Rep. Marvin Proffer worked for about 10 years to make the nature center a reality.)
“They said having the center here would be a great addition to the county. And it has,” Rediger said. “They said it would bring visitors and it has. They said it would engage community volunteers, and it has. They said the Department of Conservation would become involved in the community, and it has. They touted that this facility would become a destination for our community and it has. Whenever I drive by or come here, the parking lot is always full. It has been a tremendous asset for our city, our county and our region. Thank you for making this happen.”
Brenda Newbern, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said more than 50,000 people visited the Cape Nature Center last year. In addition, ‘They ate in our restaurants and stayed in our hotels,” she said.
Department of Conservation Director Sara Parker Pauley gave a history of the Conservation Department and its strong connections to the citizens of Missouri. It was formed in 1937 when citizens wanted it formed.
It was funded for its first 40 years by fees collected from hunting, fishing and trapping permits. Then a 1/8 of one percent sales tax was passed to help fund the Department.
Pauley said the Southeast Region has the widest variety of birds, plant life and other wildlife. That’s because Missouri’s highest point [Taum Sauk Mountain] and lowest point [Hornersville swamp] are both located in this region. “Its a hotbed for natural diversity,” she said.
There are 120 conservation areas throughout Missouri, covering 188,000 acres.
“We are, in part, celebrating 80 years,” she said. “It’s your Department of Conservation. Thank you so much for your support.”
Various booths were set up to explain aspects of the Department and surveys were available to give feedback to the Department.
Open houses are planned throughout the state into October. Cape Girardeau was the first one and was considered a success by local Department officials. One said the reason for the big turnout may have been the opportunity to see fish filleted and be able to taste the fresh fried fish.