Let’s Take a Hike!

Let’s Take a Hike!

May is the month Missourians finally get to say “good-bye” to cold weather and “hello” to sunshine and spring. It’s also the month I transition from full-time Jefferson City policymaker to an in-district senator, swapping my committee hearings, floor debates and suits with community events, constituent issues and hiking boots. Just thinking about strolling through the woods along jagged trails and newly sprouted undergrowth puts my mind at ease. Hiking on trails and experiencing our state’s natural bounty have always been therapeutic for me, so I hope you will take a literal or virtual hike this month to explore the great outdoors.

The physical benefits of hiking and exercise are tremendous. According to the National Park Service, the perks of hiking include stronger muscles and bones, improved balance, better cardiovascular health and decreased respiratory issues. Mentally, spending quality time outdoors boosts your mood, reduces stress, calms anxiety and improves sensory perception. Socially, spending time with friends or family on challenging trails is a great way to strengthen both the bonds between people and the bond between people and nature.

The wellness opportunities in nature are at your disposal, if you just take the first step, or roll if mobility is a challenge for you, as most trails and sidewalks in our community are wheelchair accessible. If you are unable to get outside, consider subscribing to the Missouri Conservationist, a free monthly magazine published by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) that illustrates and tells the story of Missouri’s abundant plant and wildlife. You may also scroll through a variety of stories and scenery online at mdc.mo.gov. Please keep safety in mind when you venture out, use the buddy system if you are trying out a new or remote path, familiarize yourself with the trails’ map and pack and dress appropriately for the weather.

Our community is blessed with three conservation areas to explore and many other parks and walking trails. Joplin’s Walter Woods Conservation Area offers 68.2 acres to discover, hike and fish. Purchased and developed in the 1930s, the trails are lined with mature oak and hickory trees, native plants and seasonal wildflowers. The park does have a paved path for disabled accessibility, and the lodge doubles as an educational center. Pack your binoculars to watch birds in their natural habitat as you stroll the hilly terrain. Call 417-895-6880 for additional information.

The Wildcat Glade Natural Area, located south of Joplin, showcases the area’s unique Chert glades, which are known for their thin, dry soil and only exist in southern Missouri. Trekkers at Wildcat Glades will have the opportunity to enjoy the plant and animal species who call this unusual landscape home. Call 417-629-3434 for more information.

Wildflowers and woods abound in the Wildcat Glade Natural Area.

Adjacent to the Wildcat Glades is one of my favorite places to take a respite from city life, Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center. The 1,300 gallon aquarium replicates an Ozark stream, the sparkling water of Shoal Creek attracts area wildlife and migratory birds and four miles of trails wind along the scenic waterway. For more information, call 417-629-3434.

A great way to find out if “these boots were made for walkin’” is to attend one of the numerous education sessions facilitated at Shoal Creek. On May 7, the center is hosting Wildlife: Nature Boardgames from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., an opportunity for people of all ages and skill levels to learn about nature through board games. You also may want to register for the Conservation Families: Wildflower Walk on May 27 at 10:00 a.m. to explore the seasonal wildflowers in bloom.

I’ll close with this quote from Finis Mitchell, “We don’t stop hiking because we grow old, we grow old because we stop hiking.” Whether you are stomping through the woods, wheeling around your neighborhood or appreciating nature from inside, stay young, my friends!

This column appeared in the Joplin Globe’s Better Living publication on May 6, 2020.