A new nature school, where students from Columbia and other Boone County districts can learn about the environment by being immersed in it, will be next to Three Creeks Conservation Area south of Columbia.
The 207 acres where four classrooms and lab spaces will be built was donated by former Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters and his wife, associate publisher Vicki Russell. The students will also have access to Three Creeks’ more than 1,000 acres.
The nature school is being created through a partnership between Columbia Public Schools and the Missouri Department of Conservation, which maintains Three Creeks.
Waters did not want the land to be developed and wanted to leave a legacy in Columbia, district science coordinator Mike Szydlowski said.
“It would have become a commercial subdivision, and we’ve got too many of those,” Waters said about donating instead of selling the property. He said the land, which he acquired in about 1981, is good for public use.
According to a proclamation issued Friday by the Department of Conservation, Waters’ father, Henry J. Waters Jr., played a role in founding the department.
“It’s a great opportunity to get more environmental education for students,” said Robert Hemmelgarn, media specialist for the department. “We’re excited about it.”
Szydlowski said he’s particularly excited about the donated land’s proximity to Three Creeks. The Conservation Department will help care for the nature school land and will build 3 miles of trail for it, Szydlowski said.
The proclamation from the Missouri Conservation Commission noted the “acquisition of the property will promote and sustain quality natural resources, and connect citizens with nature by providing additional hiking and birdwatching and nature viewing opportunities in close proximity to the Columbia city limits.”
Part of the land includes some farmland the Conservation Department wants to convert into a native prairie with the help of students, Szydlowski said.
Szydlowski said the district will begin taking students there on field trips in September. His hope is that the classrooms will be built within two years. The goal, he said, is to make it an outdoor learning place for 1,400-1,500 students across Boone County.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.