Flying High in Springfield
By GEORGE FREEMAN
Editor of GREENE Magazine
For the past several issues, we have guided readers to the four corners of the Ozarks to explore destinations well off the beaten path in Missouri, Arkansas, with stops in Kansas and northeast Oklahoma. Our notion was that there is much to see on a budget and a tank of gas, for the entire family or just you and your Main Squeeze.
Our journey is far from over – indeed, we will likely never run out of places to recommend – but today we’re at home base in Springfield, Mo., because millions come here annually from here and there on their own one-tank exploration. This is for them, although we may all need a reminder of how much there is to see and learn locally.
A quick history lesson: there were at least seven slaves who likely did much of the heavy lifting when the Campbells and Grays settled around the springs that still seep from the Karst topography. Our day in infamy was the lynching of three black men on the town square in 1906. On that date was lost a unique community that lost something profound that day. It haunts us still.
If paleontology is your interest, you will find much to learn at Riverbluff Cave, home of the Missouri Cave Institute, one of the most significant subterranean finds in the world (see GREENE Magazine, April/May 2012). Research is ongoing, and the museum is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (2327 W. Farm Rd. 190, 417-883-0594)and Saturday by appointment. The cave is not open to visitors. For spelunkers, there’s also Fantastic Cavern (hours vary by season) if more modern conveyance is your preference.
In April we observe of Earth Day, April 22, now celebrated in nearly 200 countries, dating back to 1969.
Now 15 years old, the Discovery Center (DiscoveryCenter.org, 417-862-9910 Ext 706, $12 for adults, $8 for children 3-15; family memberships starting at $75) has been Ground Zero for Earth Day festivities. But Springfield’s science museum is a special treat anytime, where education and entertainment collide in an array of displays, and where science is made real. Especially if you are a kid, or a child at heart.
Here you can observe a schedule for demonstrations, including the "HighWire Bike Exhibit, the Discovery Lab and the Phenomena Gallery. The latter is where you may find museum guide Peter Nielebock, a native of Berlin, Germany, whose dedication to explaining scientific matters is more akin to Bill Nye, the Science Guy, with whom he has no resemblance. He does, however, look and sound a bit like Albert Einstein, with whom he shares a preference for unruly white hair. All great fun.
While there is much to enjoy by way of entertainment and cuisine, our preference is to remind families on a budget that many of our attractions are free.
Open every day, the Springfield Botanical Gardens (with its free solar tram on weekends) will soon be alive with gardens designed with all of us in mind. Yet here is the largest public display of ornamental grass in the U.S., the Butterfly Festival (Saturday, July 20, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m.); the Gray-Campbell Farmstead Expo (Sept. 14-15) and many other events detailed in the Friends of the Garden newsletter in this issue.
Now celebrating its 100th anniversary, Springfield’s Park System has been recognized nationally for its many attractions, from Rutledge-Wilson Farm, a unique working petting zoo, to the Valley Mill Park Equestrian Center, to various historic parks and the Springfield Historical Museum, now observing the 100th anniversary of a parks system that dates back officially to the 1900s, with sports, recreation and a slice of American music culture writ with the help of iconic figures such as Satchel Paige, Lionel Hampton, and Buck O’Neill, plus Mickey Owen and many others.
The Conservation Nature Center is another destination facility that offers weekly events, as do many of the attractions. In fact, it can be difficult to sort out all of the events, from Springfield Cardinals Baseball and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame to the Rotary Clubs’ Rock’n Ribs BBQ Festival, this year Saturday April 20, at a new location, the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
Routinely, there are sporting events ranging from national fast pitch softball to the Springfield Cardinals, to the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum in 1996 (Ash Grove), the Springfield Art Musuem, Artsfest on Walnut Street; First Friday Art Walk; the Japanese Fall Festival (at the Japanese Stroll Gardens in the Springfield Botanical Gardens.
Springfield is also the home of Route 66, the original national road conceived here at the Colonial Hotel; the Old Wire Road, leading to the Wilson’s Creek Battlefield and National Civil War Museum; the Trail of Tears route traveled by members of the Cherokee Nation to Oklahoma in the 1830s; and the Ozarks Jubilee.
Food for thoughtful dining
With more than 800 restaurants, including 40 chef-owned restaurants, you can satisfy just about any taste. Plus, Springfield now has at least four farmers markets, including the Farmers Market of the Ozarks, soon to have its own permanent location on East Republic Road. But at each market, growers of fresh produce are friendly competitors, often glad to share knowledge. Many can also be found away from marketplaces at urban farms such as Urban Roots Farm, Fassnight Farms, Millsap Farms, Sunshine Farms and dozens more, each a treat for slow-food enthusiasts.
Springfield’s history is so much a part of the culture even today that not everyone has a working knowledge and fewer still an understanding for the importance of the Ozarks community in peace and wartime.
What you choose to eat in Springfield depends in part of your time, appetite and sometimes your sense of adventure (the Sertoma Chili Cookoff comes immediately to mind, body and soul).
But there is history here as well.
Perhaps best known is a tasty Southern-fried concoction with an Asian twist –Springfield-style cashew chicken – on local menus since 1963 when David Leong’s Tea House opened its doors and found it needed something unique to lure diners to its doors. Now celebrating its 46th year, the dish has many imitators.
At Nathanael Greene Park is the city’s largest public garden, the Mizumoto Stroll Garden, opened in 1985. Along with Japanese-style landscaping, this 7 1/2-acre beauty features a idyllic recirculating lake, teahouse, moon bridge, deck and pagoda that offer quiet places for repose and winding trails offer peaceful walks among the greenery and flowers. Hours are seasonal beginning April 10 and $3 admission is charged. Volunteers have begun extensively restoration, including installation of a pump that recirculates water between two water features filled with colorful koi that visitors can feed with approved kibble.
On 59 contiguous acres, Nathanael Greene Park and the seamlessly adjacent 55-acre Close Memorial Park boast nearly 50 gardens and collections, each available to enjoy free. The gardens are cared for by volunteers through Friends of the Garden (see newsletter in this and every issue of GREENE).
Demonstration Gardens maintained by Master Gardeners of Greene County feature vegetables, ornamental grass and hundreds of blooming perennials and annuals maintained since 1994. In September, Master Gardeners and the University of Missouri Extension Service will host the annual state convention
Have we scratched the surface? Barely, but perhaps enough to bring to Springfield time and again.