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Ozarks Watershed Center

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Watershed Center at Valley Water Mill Park

Nearby resident Judy Cousins was walking her dogs at the Watershed Center when she encountered Executive Director Mike Kromrey.  She’d been wondering what those interesting chains were that hung down from the new building, and Kromrey was able to explain how they carry water down to filter boxes in the ground. Roof runoff saved in a tank behind the building is used to flush toilets and water plants at the education building built to LEED specifications. She listened as the director explained how these techniques are all applicable for our homes.

Rain Chains Gently Direct Water
Director Mike Kromrey Chats with
Visitor Judy Cousins

The biologist with a passion for education and outreach never misses a teachable moment at the new Springfield, Missouri center created by the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks.  The 100-acre site that formerly housed a grist mill was later purchased by the city as a water source, and has long been a favorite hangout for locals.  Through a combination of private donations and public grant funding, the Watershed Center is able to use what looks like a typical lakeside park as an interactive, outdoor classroom.  Every inch of the property has a story to tell.  Kromrey boasts, “The site itself is like an engineer’s playground.”  From Valley Water Mill Lake to springs, caves and more karst topography, he says “This site has everything on it to show you how the Ozarks functions.”

Tank Saves Rainwater for
Toilets and Garden Watering

Springfield is located in the Sac River Watershed, within the Missouri River Basin.  Part of the Center’s mission is to simply educate about what a watershed is and how everyone’s actions within that watershed are tied together.  Within any geographical area, chances are that what you put on your lawn today will someday affect the quality of the drinking water for your neighbors.  The Watershed Committee wants to  preserve drinking water for Springfield and Greene County residents.  So the Watershed Center demonstrates everything from sustainable building techniques to various types of permeable sidewalks and rain gardens.  Kromrey explains that the old way of thinking about rain runoff was to get it off a property, while today’s smarter, more sustainable method is to keep water on the property. “Out here we are all about getting water back into our aquifers rather than polluted stormwater back into the lake. If you can let it filter back through the soil, that cleans it.”

The two and a half miles of walking trails circling the lake offer photo opportunities along with ecology lessons.  Signage at learning stations includes tips like managing your rain garden so it won’t become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Buffalo grass and other native plants provide examples of landscaping that can be somewhat drought tolerant.

Executive Director Mike Kromrey, Watershed Center
As my husband and children discovered the day we visited, you can cross bridges, get up close with frogs and play in the forest. The Watershed Center has a detailed Interpreter’s Guide online and hosts groups of schoolchildren for structured lessons.  Families with children are welcome for less formal, teachable moments, as well.  “For kids, I think the very best thing is just establishing a connection with nature,” shares Kromrey, who’s also a parent, ‘The real seed that you’re planting is the connection with nature that will grow within them.”  One measure of the Center’s success would be an abundance of clean drinking water available for yet another generation of children in the Ozarks.

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