Oh, Mother Nature, you make such beautiful things for me - and others - to enjoy in the Springfield area!

For exercise and fresh air, I use several trails in the area and am always amazed by the color, delicacy, boldness, and uniqueness of the things I see. From the tiny blooms of white snakeroot growing wild in a forest to butterflies landing on my grandkids at the Rosten Butterfly House, I marvel at the fascinating creations of nature. Best of all, they are right in the middle of the city or just a few minutes away. 

Springfield Botanical CenterThe Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center

Close proximity - five blocks from my house - is one thing that makes the South Creek Greenway a favorite. When I go west, the trail takes me by the horses at Missouri State University’s agricultural center to Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. There, I can enjoy the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center and dozens of themed and collection gardens. Plant lovers like myself can delight at the lilies, irises, peonies, roses, zinnias, ornamental grasses, and more that are maintained by volunteers. Continuing west, the trail goes into a forested area where I’ve seen deer, a baby snapping turtle making its way across the path, and other flora and fauna. 

When I take the trail east toward McDaniel Park, I go by acres the city planted to establish a butterfly habitat along South Creek. Red cardinal flowers often catch my eye along with the dainty orange blooms of jewelweed, sapphire blue lobelia, brilliant yellow coneflowers and many other wildflowers and birds, and - of course - butterflies. 

Black Vulture

Black Vulture found on the Fulbright Spring Greenway

As you may have guessed, I like naming and sharing the things I see, so my Canon and “Seek,” a smartphone app that helps identify plants and animals, accompany me on my treks. I also take them along when I’m riding my bike, though I discovered it’s nearly impossible (definitely dangerous!) to snap pictures while riding. That’s fine with me because it makes me pause to take in nature’s displays and gives my weary legs a break. 

Having my camera with me on a recent ride on the Fulbright Spring Greenway netted some stunning photos of black vultures as they flew to an old silo where they posed for portraits at Lost Hill Park, a former farm on the city’s north side. The trail stretches between Truman Elementary School to Ritter Springs Park, 245 acres of green space offering a variety of outdoor experiences for nature lovers. It goes through a shady canopy of forest, a prairie of towering native grasses, and over a stream. 

Beautyberry

Beautyberry found at Lake Springfield

Another hiking adventure took me south to Lake Springfield where I saw herons fishing among the lily pads, blue jays and cardinals in the treetops, white-tailed deer and a spotted fawn nibbling grass at the edge of a field, and even a bald eagle. I also saw an eye-catching plant that I later learned is called beautyberry, a shrub with golf ball-sized clusters of purple fruit every few inches along its long, arching limbs. That trail showcases several different types of wildflowers, including white star-shaped clematis, purple thistle, brown-eyed Susan, milkweed, and daisies.

Wilson's Creek Greenway Trail

Wilson's Creek Greenway Trail

A week after that early morning hike, I headed to Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park where I rode my bike on the Wilson’s Creek Greenway. Something to remember when you head that way, for every hill you struggle to go up on your bike, you’ll coast down it on your return trip. Though this trail has some walk-your-bike grades, it’s well worth the ride. Through forest and farmland, the trail offers sights and sounds of hawks on the hunt, a rustic barn, birds flitting about, squirrels rustling in the leaves, wildflowers, native grasses, and even a family cemetery that dates to 1874 you can explore. A bonus on this trail is you can enjoy the Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park, a former farm showcasing animals, antique farm equipment, a playground, and a visitor center.

Those are just a few of the trail opportunities in the Springfield area. There are many others, including trails at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, city parks, and other Ozark Greenways Trails. Each offers sights and sounds of Missouri’s landscape, and with seasonal changes, you’ll see different flowers blooming, colors changing, and animal behavior. 

I hope to see you on a trail soon!