#NATURAL
The Remington Nature Center

June 4, 2018

Written by Rachel McCoy | Photos by Jessica Stewart and Patrick Evenson

CHARACTER TRAIT: Natural

DEFINITION: Consonant with the character of and in accordance with the nature of the area.

Connecting Our Shared History with Our Future, Alongside an Ever-Changing River Landscape

Calling all history buffs, nature lovers and curious minds! You’ll be right at home inside the doors of the Remington Nature Center. As one of St. Joseph’s most unique, hands-on educational experiences, this award-winning museum and attraction has everything – including a woolly mammoth, buffalo, Civil War items, live birds, extensive Native American artifacts, beautiful river views and a gently winding paved nature trail.

And if all this wasn’t “uncommon” enough, the architecture of the building is a marvel all its own. Andrea McCoy, Remington Nature Center Manager, can’t hide her enthusiasm for the Center and all that it offers – starting with its unique placement perched on the Missouri River bluffs. “The history of the River and the nature of the surrounding area are a perfect fit for the experience we want to convey,” she says. “The building’s placement honors the river as the heart of St. Joseph, from our early beginnings with the European trappers and Native Americans to who we are today as a city.

“The Missouri River is such a tremendous asset, and such a beautiful attraction. The trails, spending time together outside and enjoying nature within our doors at the Center is what we’re all about.”

Every corner of the building seems to reflect McCoy’s thoughts. Large windows allow year-round natural light to frame the surrounding trails, water and bluffs, creating an inspiring exhibit for every season. The structure is elevated on wooden beams to accommodate the nearby water, serving to enhance the view and prevent the exhibits from flooding. A natural sand area below the beams allows for the popular archaeology digs, and a stone outdoor classroom sets the perfect stage for group activities. McCoy notes that dozens of regional school groups from across the Midwest make the journey for field trips. Students of all ages enjoy the fossils covering the large boulders on the Remington Nature Center grounds.

Programs offered to groups range from archeology to Lewis and Clark to the science of tornadoes – and each program is always connected to nature. Even as guests approach the building, they know it’s something special by the winding paved walkways, natural grasses and stone and water features. A bridge crosses a creek and ponds as guests enter the building, giving visitors a view of turtles, fish and sometimes snakes sunning themselves on some of the many natural rock areas.

The view from both inside and outside of the nature center is always a show-stopper across all weather patterns. “There’s really no better place to see the seasons change,” says McCoy. “We can see summertime rain and storms move in and boats on the river. Fall is gorgeous down here. It’s also beautiful in winter to see nesting eagles every year. It’s not uncommon to see eagles in winter on ice caps, hunting for fish.

“It’s our goal to complement the natural surroundings and be unique at the same time,” she says. “Our team is always encouraging visitors to take a new look at what’s around our building and inside it, because the landscape is always changing. This changes the messages our exhibits can bring, too.”

The Remington Nature Center team enjoys observing guests’ expressions first-hand as they encounter the center’s first big surprise – the replica woolly mammoth exhibit positioned at the entrance. Additional natural attractions include a 7,000-gallon freshwater aquarium, where guests can observe feeding time every Friday. Honey bees thrive in an observation beehive and a wolf howls from a forest exhibit. Further exploration leads visitors to an expansive and interactive exhibit area that showcases the history of St. Joseph, from early fur trading, Native Americans, the Civil War, early entrepreneurs and the famed Pony Express. It’s a vivid and intriguing snapshot of what makes our city so memorable.

But that’s just the more “recent” stuff. There’s so much more to the story.

As a true cultural history gem, the Nature Center’s staff, board, curators and the community continue to work diligently together to celebrate the region’s prehistoric and Native American heritage. “The exhibits connect people to our history as fellow human beings, as tribal beings and honor our creativity and resourcefulness. For the Native Americans who lived here, the river was their lifeline. We want to tell the story of how they used the river and surrounding natural elements in this exact area.”

McCoy’s enthusiasm for her work is lifelong and impacts the way she tells this story today. She grew up on a farm, where she says she became very interested in history and nature. Her dad, amateur archeologist Mike George, helped her start collecting cultural artifacts years ago. “As a child, I loved to fish and explore nature in every way possible. With a degree in Mass Communications, I can create Nature Center programming, organize trips and work with people all within the backdrop of this beautiful area. The history and nature here are so important to me, and I hope that everyone who comes through the doors sees that.”

For McCoy, telling this important story means adapting the events at the Remington Nature Center to showcase what makes the local community special. Several annual gatherings, including recycling events, classic car shows, archaeological digs for children, summer experiences and the popular Rockin’ On the River concert event, co-hosted by the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce, have been held on the 13,000 square foot space scenic parking lot adjacent to the Center.

“No matter what events are held, we want people to come away with a new appreciation for what St. Joseph has to offer and to know that learning really can be fun,” says McCoy. “We’re accessible to people of all backgrounds, ADA compliant and offer several audio/visual accessibility resources. This is the community’s Nature Center and we’re privileged to manage it.”

The only thing that compares to sharing the landscape and the exhibits, she says, is seeing multiple generations of families enjoy the center together. “Sometimes we have a bridal or baby shower for a family, and then a few years later, we host a birthday party for their children. It’s really rewarding to see that the center is promoting a sense of community.”

As a community resource, the Remington Nature Center represents multi-level collaboration. Officially managed by the City of St. Joseph, groups including the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Buchanan County and many other entities helped establish the attraction and continue to play a role.

“Everything we do is to promote the Remington Nature Center as a resource for everyone,” says McCoy. “We bring exhibits out to area festivals, schools and even nursing homes because we want people to know that this is their Center.

“We’re truly finding our place as a resource in St. Joseph but also across the Midwest. We draw visitors from Kansas City, Omaha, Jefferson City, Des Moines and surrounding areas. The region loves this facility and embraces it together – and this gives us a sense of place and nature and history, looking at both who we were as people and what we can be in the future.”

RESOURCE LINKS:

The Remington Nature Center

#FOUNDING

Having or showing initiative and resourcefulness.

#STEADFAST

Unswerving loyalty.

#SELF-BELIEF

A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement.

#RESOLUTE

Admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.

#CURIOUS

Eager to learn or know; inquisitive; arousing interest.