1. Local

The Shaw Nature Reserve

By

The Shaw Nature Reserve Photo by Scott Woodbury, courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

About the Shaw Nature Reserve:

It would be oversimplifying things to say that the Shaw Nature Reserve is a great place to commune with nature or to temporarily escape city life (or even just suburban life). The reserve, which sits just off I-44 in Gray Summit, is so much more than a park, and a visit there is not to be confused with a simple “trip to the country.”

But perhaps it’s somewhere in between. Most parks don’t have half-a-dozen natural habitats within their boundaries, and trips to the country can’t offer huge glens of carefully cultivated native wildflowers. Simply put, the Shaw Nature Reserve is the place to see the best of what nature in Missouri has to offer.

Hike Through Six Unique Natural Habitats:

Plan to spend a day or an afternoon just wandering the grounds. The Wetland Complex can be exceptionally tranquil, and visitors often see ducks, kingfishers and herons working their way through the lily pads. Or, take a hike through the reserve’s upland forests, keeping an eye out for deer and wild turkey. Hidden within the forests are quite a few naturally occurring glades, wide open areas that bloom with native wildflowers through spring and summer.

Overall the reserve has more than 14 miles of trails, cutting through a wide variety of native habitats, including tallgrass prairies, pine meadows and bottomland forests. A number of trails also lead to a peaceful section of the Meramec River, where hikers can cool their feet in summer months.

See the Reserve Without Hiking:

If you’re not in the mood to hike, the Whitmire Wildflower Garden can be easily explored on a short and comfortable garden path. The garden has everything from perennials you might grow at home to wilder prairie plants and flowers. Or, really take it easy and hop on a narrated wagon ride through many of the reserve’s most scenic areas. The wagons run each weekend afternoon from May through June, and September through October, departing from the visitor center on the hour. Cost for the 3-mile trip is only $1 per person.

Especially Fun for Kids:

The Shaw Nature Reserve is also an exciting place to go as a family. The reserve has worked hard to engage children and get them interested in nature and in joining in its mission of stewardship.

Stop by the visitor center where helpful workers and volunteers will help you plan your day. The center can give you everything you need for a number of self-guided tours. Try a hike along the “Little Acorn Trail” where you’ll look for treasure boxes packed with hands-on activities that teach about things kids see along the trail. Or, check out the “Freddie the Fish” activity kit, which instructs kids on how to collect and test lake water, all with the goal of determining if it’s a good environment for aquatic life.

For Preschoolers:

The reserve also offers a special series just for preschoolers, called Garden Buds. A three-class series, Garden Buds is meant to get kids exploring and asking questions about nature. A fun class in the fall is “Leaf it to Us,” which uses nature walks and hands-on crafts to explain why leaves change color. Individual classes are $18, or three for $50. All courses include activities, stories and a snack.

Getting There:

The Shaw Nature Reserve is approximately 30 minutes southwest of St. Louis, located just off I-44 in Gray Summit. A few miles past Six Flags, take exit #253 and turn left across the I-44 overpass. At the first stop, turn right on the service road and go 50 yards to reach the reserve’s entrance on the left.

Hours and Admission:

Open year-round, the Shaw Nature Reserve is worth a visit during any season. Gates open at 7:00 a.m. and close at sunset. Admission is $5 for adults but free for children 12 and under.

For more information call (636) 451-3512 or visit the reserve's website.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.