“The GOOD LORD provided all the resources for us to enjoy. The outdoors belongs to Him. We are only using it for a while. Respect His great gifts and thank Him each day for providing them” - Rev. Willie James Duncombe “Bonefish Willie”
These words are read by all who enter the aquarium portion of the Wonders Of Wildlife museum in Springfield, Missouri. These words say a lot about what this massive 350,000 square feet of an outdoorsman’s paradise is and what it was designed for. It is not only for the person who loves to hunt or fish; it is also for the person who loves, enjoys and respects the outdoors and all that it has to offer.
“Wonders Of Wildlife is an inspirational journey around the world that celebrates the roles of hunters and anglers as America’s true conservation heroes,” said Johnny Morris Founder/CEO of Bass Pro Shops.
Morris, who founded Bass Pro Shops in 1971 with only eight square feet of space in the back of his father’s liquor store, created the not-for-profit Wonders Of Wildlife as a gift to all people with the intentions of inspiring all ages to engage with the natural world. Engaging with the world is exactly what it is doing, attracting thousands of visitors who are able to take the journey through 1.5 miles of trails, taking them into authentic habitats from different types of land found all over the world, as well as the ability to view many creatures that live in freshwater and saltwater. People across the country are enjoying it so much that it was voted as America’s Favorite New Attraction by USA Today.
Being that I live only a couple of hours from Springfield, I constantly come across ads in magazines, radio and on TV raving about how wonderful Wonders Of Wildlife really is. My wife and I recently had our first child, and he is now old enough to enjoy the many things to see, so we decided it was time to visit Wonders of Wildlife for ourselves. Before arriving, my expectations were that this was a museum filled with a lot of animal mounts, live animals and a bunch of fish swimming around in a big tank of water that looked like the ocean. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After going through the main entrance of Bass Pro Shops, we entered into a replica of the bait shop that started it all. As we came near the ticket counter, I was already amazed by a collection of Bass Pro auto racing memorabilia that consisted of actual cars from drivers such as Tony Stewart, Austin and Ty Dillon and of course the legendary Dale Earnhardt as well as many trophies, photos and uniforms that had been worn by many well-known NASCAR drivers. Remember, this was all before we had even received our tickets to enter into both the wildlife and aquatic portions of Wonders Of Wildlife.
We began our journey into the wildlife portion. Immediately we realized that there was so much more than mounts, animals and fish. We first enjoyed the history of Native Americans, and the story of how the buffalo were impacted and the restoration efforts that followed to bring them where they are today. We then visited a life-sized replica of one of my favorite Presidents and conservationists, Teddy Roosevelt's cabin. There were many items highlighting his efforts to help with the national parks and public land that we enjoy today.
We encountered many lifelike mounts that were featured alongside their natural habitats making them seem so realistic that it seemed one could reach out and touch them. Throughout the wildlife portion, we were also able to view a massive collection of game animals from the Boone and Crockett Club’s personal collection, as well as several mounts that featured conservation efforts from many conservation groups such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Wild Sheep Foundation. In fact, it is noted that 40 leading conservation organizations help to tell the story throughout the Wonders Of Wildlife.
We got to visit an African-themed portion, jungle portion and a colder climates portion, which featured live penguins that kids could interact with up close by climbing in tunnels that went beneath the tanks that held water for the penguins. Even with such great features, it is much more about educating, enjoying history and seeing how the world is different through wildlife that makes for an unforgettable experience. Throughout the wildlife section, my wife, our son and myself enjoyed seeing many live animals such as owls, bald eagles, flamingos, ducks and even otters swimming.
Before moving on to the aquarium side of the museum, one must pass by the strategically placed restaurant/snack area that creates an aroma in the air that is hard to pass up. This section is a great place for kids to take a break before moving on.
The almighty aquarium portion of the museum was next on our adventure. I will be honest, I went into this journey expecting that the aquarium would be my least favorite part of the experience due to my love of hunting and wildlife in general. Don’t get me wrong, I love to fish, yet I have more of a passion for wildlife. I was fooled again. This, too, was more than just a bunch of fish swimming around for one to watch. The main feature is a 1.5 million gallon aquarium containing freshwater and saltwater with several different species of fish and reptiles. I’m not sure how many, however, I do know that Wonders Of Wildlife as a whole contains 35,000 different live fish, mammals, reptiles and birds combined. As for the aquarium and the other sights along the way, this is what could very well be considered as the Main Event. Not only does one get to see the many different types and sizes of saltwater fish, the many freshwater fish that I am personally familiar with also have their own section of water for visitors to walk by and enjoy.
Besides live fish, alligators and much more, visitors can also enjoy a fishing hall of fame that shines a spotlight on many famous anglers from all over the world, as well as a collection of the most popular anglers in another collection from B.A.S.S. Even if one is not a fisherman, there are still many interesting sights, such as a boat titled “Bass One” that was a gift to President George Bush from Johnny Morris.
There is also the opportunity to dive with sharks in a cage. By purchasing a ticket, one can be lowered down into ocean like waters to come face to face with the live sharks that swim within inches of the cage.
For the final stop of the tour, and what was referred to as the grand finale by some, was a massive two-story shipwreck room which housed many types of saltwater fish swimming around the wreckage. However, the best part was on the lower floor level which featured a round tank with several stingrays swimming around it for all of the kids and adults to touch and feed as they swam by the waist high banks of the display.
The Wonders Of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri is all that it is hyped up to be and more. It truly is a place for everyone. Many activities designed specifically for kids to interact with the animals and fish makes for an exciting time with no chance of boredom setting in throughout the entire tour. There are spots for the history buff, adventure seeker through the shark diving tank, animal lovers and of course the hunter and fisherman. This tour took us approximately three hours, yet it seemed like that time passed very quickly with all that the museum has to offer. I would definitely recommend Wonders Of Wildlife for one's next personal or family adventure.