20th birthday party gives reporter a new view of JC nature center

Volunteer Claudia Arnold hands Peyton Leonard, of Detroit Lakes, Minn., a cupcake to enjoy during Runge Nature Center’s 20th birthday celebration on Saturday in Jefferson City.

Volunteer Claudia Arnold hands Peyton Leonard, of Detroit Lakes, Minn., a cupcake to enjoy during Runge Nature Center’s 20th birthday celebration on Saturday in Jefferson City. Photo by Kris Wilson.

I’ve lived in Jefferson City for nearly 17 years, and I’m ashamed to say I had never taken the time to enjoy what the Runge Nature Center has to offer.

That was until Saturday.

There was a steady stream of cars coming into the center for its 20th birthday celebration.

I had planned to go out and talk to folks who were enjoying special presentations on archery, fishing and raptors from the University of Missouri that are being rehabilitated to be released back into the wild.

I was directed to where some of the events were taking place and had the pleasure of walking some of the long trails to get there.

It must have made me want to do something a little adventurous because once I got to the tree climbing trail station I decided I’d give it a whirl.

Doing what is called a Festival Tree Climb, I was shown by members of Vertical Voyages out of St. Louis how to use ropes, much like what you see people use to rappel, to pull myself up and eventually get to the top of the tree.

Although I didn’t make it to the top, the experience of trying to maneuver knots so I could go up was one I won’t forget. I’ll add that it was much easier getting down than up.

After getting unbuckled and safely on the ground, I was back out on the trails where I encountered several families, many with young children who were looking at the trees, asking their parents what something was or squealing with delight or fright when they encountered something along the way.

One of the people I met was Sara Rittman. She’s been a volunteer at the center since 1996 and was one of 20 people who visitors could meet who had found a natural connection with nature.

Sitting in a deer stand, Rittman told about how she herself was an avid hunter and how much the center means to her.

“I had one gentleman come by today and say he didn’t realize how far the trails stretched here,” she said. “If you didn’t have the highway noise, you’d really feel like you were in the country.”

“Our anniversary milestone is an opportunity to help people connect to nature,” said Runge Nature Center Manager Kathy Cavender. “We don’t want people to come once; we want them to keep coming with new ways to get involved.”

Thank you Kathy, I definitely will be back.

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