A few months back, rather on a whim, I ventured to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield with camera in hand. It was a free admission day and it had been years since my family last visited.
Awed and a little chagrined, I realized the battlefield, just outside Springfield, is closer to my neighborhood than most parks and trails I use and easy to reach for any resident.
No question this park is rich in historic significance as site of the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi. But it’s also, I realized, a beautiful, safe spot for outdoor fitness and recreation.
I was missing out.
Not so for Stephanie Davenport who frequently runs and bikes in the park. “It's a wonderful place to just go and disconnect from your day or to kick-start your morning,” she says. “Plus, it's pretty fun to see all the wildlife out there.”
Park Superintendent Ted Hillmer calls it a year-round park worth revisiting: “If you come during the summer you see one park. If you come during the winter, you see another park. You see a different park each season.”
I’ve since bought a 12-month season pass. A bargain at $30, the pass allows me to bring a few guests to walk, bike or tour in my car.
Now, like Stephanie, I’m a frequent visitor. Here’s why:
In the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price set up headquarters near the William Edwards cabin, accessible by foot or horseback from the historic Wire Road trail. Wire Road connects to several other trails throughout the park, including the trail at stop No. 3 where I accessed it.
Wooded and open trails cut through the park and connect its sections. Wide and well-maintained, the trails lead to historic spots not accessible from the paved tour road – including, I discovered, Edwards Cabin and the sites of now-gone Gibson’s Mill and house. Some trails meander near Wilson’s Creek; others – like East Battle Overlook, an uphill hike at stop No. 3 -- provide broad views.
Trails are shared by dog-walkers, runners, nature-lovers, history buffs, horse-riders and more. I like feeling immersed in the restored 1861 cultural landscape. Now I’ve got my eye on changing leaves - trekking the trails with camera in hand will make a perfect fall outing.
It's not unusual to see runners, walkers and bike riders along the 5-mile, one-way paved tour road that circles Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
The tour road boasts beautiful, natural views and, as Stephanie and her friend Kathy Prater point out, feels safe for bikers, runners and walkers. There’s a low car speed limit, and the one-way road features a nice wide lane for bike and foot traffic.
About five miles long, the road includes a number of hills. Bloody Hill, though named to reflect its 1861 casualties, aptly describes what it’s like to ascend (no shame in pausing, or walking!).
Kathy says she likes riding in the park for its peaceful rural setting.
Stephanie also runs on the trails. “I think it's pretty hard to get lost out there,” she says. “All the trails eventually lead back to the road, which eventually leads back to the visitor center.”
Deer, turkey, a variety of birds and even reptiles such as harmless green snakes can be found at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
A lot of people come out in early morning or evening hours to catch sight of wildlife. Superintendent Ted says the park plants corn and hay per 1861 landscaping, not to feed animals. But it sure doesn’t hurt.
I’ve encountered deer, wild turkey and other beasts and birds. According to a National Park Service listing, Wilson’s Creek is home to various amphibians and reptiles; birds including hawks, ducks and geese; and plenty of critters including rabbits, deer, fox and more.
Enjoy wildflowers in addition to wildlife? You'll find plenty of those as well.
Wilson's Creek National Battlefield is a wonderful place to shoot photos, whether sweeping landscapes, nature in the wild or creative closeups.
This park is photo-op-rich whether you like to shoot sweeping landscapes, interesting objects, wildlife and wildflowers or big skies and sunsets. (Yes, yes, yes and yes!)
Many nice landscapes are accessible from the tour road as are several old cannons. Off road, trails wind behind cornfields along split rail fencing and through pretty woods and fields. Wildflowers and wildlife make interesting subjects as do occasional bridges.
Arrive early or late to capture golden hour skies unmarred by telephone poles and wires.
"Living history demonstrations" happen throughout the year at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
Concerts, special events and educational presentations pepper the calendar listed online.
Twice in six months I’ve encountered people dressed in period costumes. Ted says they are volunteers who come in to the park – sometimes camping overnight – to present “living history demonstrations.”
More than 170,000 people visit the park annually and with a pass you have ready entertainment for out-of-town visitors. My niece and family from Kansas City loved their trek through Civil War history and we recently took my father-in-law on a tour through the old Ray House.
You know, the National Park Service, celebrating its centennial, has been urging Americans to “Find Your Park.”
It seems I have.
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield is at 6424 W. Farm Road 182. The tour road is open 8 a.m.-7 p.m. (fall hours); the visitor center closes at 5 p.m.