Look at this Heron isn't it neat

A great blue heron looks for a meal in Lake Springfield Sept. 5. The lake is located at the Conservation Center on the southeast side of Springfield.

For some of us, fall can be a season of drinking pumpkin spice lattes, wearing an abundance of baggy sweaters and creating elaborate Halloween costumes. For outdoorsy individuals, fall is the season of adrenaline-inducing, stress-relieving adventures. Regardless of whether you are an avid hiker, floater or camper, or if you’ve only seen trees via Google search, there are a vast range of options for parks and trails for all skill levels. As an added bonus, many of them reside within Springfield, and those that don’t are only a few hours away. 

If you’re unsure where to start, the Missouri State Foster Recreation center has a program called Outdoor Adventures. 

“Our program officially started in 2012 when Foster first opened,” said Austin Money, Assistant Director of Outdoor Adventures. “We have a similar activity offering from semester to semester with kayaking, hiking, rock climbing and caving. We try to switch up locations based on interest, but we do have our staples.”

According to Money, as long as you have access to Missouri State’s facilities you are allowed to participate. 

“Semester break trips are the highlight of the program,” Money said. “This year we'll be going to Bell Mountain for fall break, Great Smoky Mountain National Park for Thanksgiving break, Colorado to ski over winter break and canyoneering and hiking in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks for spring break.”

Money adds that they also offer weekly clinics focused on outdoor education. These clinics advocate for those with less time to commit or those wanting to prepare in advance for longer trips.

 “This semester we're offering kayaking, rock climbing, camping, route setting and trip geology all once a week every week until Thanksgiving break,” Money said. 

Those interested in getting involved with Outdoor Adventures at Foster Recreation Center can visit https://recportal.missouristate.edu. A real enthusiast can purchase a $25 pass for the semester, which allows them to register for as many trips as they’d like.

If you don’t have access to the Recreation Center, or just prefer to blaze your own trail, grab a few friends or loved ones and take advantage of what is available in your area. 

Sydney Johnson, junior education major at Webster University in St. Louis, would not consider herself to be an avid hiker but enjoys going with her family nonetheless. 

“I have grown up going on float trips and camping trips with my family,” Johnson said. “During quarantine however, we started hiking as a way to have some fun while avoiding other people. Now, we go a few times a month and even incorporate hiking into our family vacations.”

As far as favorite places go, Johnson recommends the Springfield Conservation Center to beginners, since it is mostly paved. She also enjoys going to Sequiota Park because you can choose your level of difficulty. These are both located on the Southeast side of Springfield.

“If you want to hike a more difficult trail, you can choose the path through the woods, or you can stick to the easier, paved trail,” Johnson said. “The only downfall of this park is that it’s usually pretty busy.”

Johnson also goes to the Two Rivers Bike Park in Highlandville, Missouri on occasion. 

According to Trailforks, an outdoor activity site, the park has 8.5 miles of Ozark terrain and is serviceable for runners and hikers. 

Paiton Fritsche, senior microbiology major at Missouri State, is more experienced with the outdoors.

“I got into backpacking about three years ago,” Fritsche said. “My most recent accomplishment was backpacking 20 miles in one day at the Berryman Trail in the Mark Twain Forest. Then the next day, I did 7.5 miles to end the trip and encountered a giant rattlesnake.”

Fritsche stated that she also owns kayaks and rents canoes on occasion. 

“I would like to start combining kayaking and backpacking,” Fritsche said. “I think it would be a blast to float down a river and then backpack alongside it. I also do just camping without the backpack aspect for when I want to take my dogs along or someone with less experience.”

According to Fritsche, she feels free being able to go into the woods for miles with only the items she can carry on her back. 

“It gives me a feeling of independence and a connection with an inner primal sense of self,” Fritsche said. 

When it comes to her favorite trails, she prefers Mark Twain National Forest for backpacking and loves Hercules Glades in Bradleyville, Missouri for its gorgeous waterfall and 11-mile moderate loop. 

“Berryman is a 27-mile loop in Mark Twain that is flat and long,” Fritsche said. “I also like to backpack along the Buffalo River in Ponca, Arkansas. A compass and some sort of map is all I need.”

In addition, Fritsche uses an app called “AllTrails” to help her find new places to explore.

“I am also part of a Facebook group called ‘Ozark trail section hikers and backpackers’ that posts lots of useful information as well,” Fritsche said. “For kayaking, my go-to is the James River because it’s close and familiar. When the water is low, this can be an all-day float.”

According to Ryan E. McDonald, assistant general manager at the Springfield Bass Pro Shop, for those in need of gear for any venture, promotions are offered through their monthly advertisements, with the discounts changing seasonally. 

“We also have a CLUBCard,” McDonald said. “This is our Loyalty Program attached to our Company’s Capital One Mastercard.”

 Check out the website link for more information on card benefits and how to apply: https://www.basspro.com/shop/en/myclub?cm_sp=CLUBoffersEvents_HM

As far as camping and other types of gear goes, McDonald stated that Bass Pro Shops have been referred to as the “granddaddy” in the world of outdoor retailers. If you need something that isn’t in stock, it can be ordered in. 

In regards to the adventures themselves, McDonald harps on the importance of learning as much as you can about the terrain or water that you will be exploring, as well as double-checking the weather forecast.

“Think about the wildlife you may encounter,” McDonald said.  “If it’s an area known to have a high concentration of venomous snakes, you may want to think about snake-proof boots or gaiters.  If there are bears, it would be a good idea to include bear spray in your pack. It is also very important to let others know where you will be and to set a timeline for your trip, so they can react if you don’t return in a timely manner.” 

In addition, McDonald stated that a more advanced hiker or camper might need a tracking device for when they explore more remote or desolate areas. Such tracking devices can be found on Bass Pro’s website. https://www.basspro.com/shop/en/spot-trace-motion-activated-tracking-device

As a more avid adventurer, Fritsche has a wider array of gear at her disposal.

“For the basic necessities, I have a solid backpack with an internal frame, a lightweight sleeping bag for the weather, a lightweight tent and food on hand for longer treks,” Fritsche said. “I also like to have a Sawyer straw or LifeStraw for filtering water. It is very difficult to carry enough water so using the resources provided by the Earth is essential.”

Fritsche got her tent from Bass Pro, a sleeping bag from Amazon and a backpack from Ozark Adventures on Republic Road. 

“Ozark Adventures is super helpful at fitting a backpack and answering any questions about the best gear,” Fritsche said. 

 After the gear is purchased, beware of the dangers of overpacking. 

“A good rule is to keep your bag close to 20 pounds or under at first and only bring what you need,” Fritsche said. “Do go with someone more experienced than you. Another person can also help carry gear so the weight is distributed.” 

McDonald strongly urges everyone to experience all that the environment has to offer, as well as observing and participating in proper conservation habits.

 “As our founder Johnny Morris, a world leader in conservation, says, ‘We all live downstream’,” McDonald said.

Follow Lauren Johns on Twitter, @lje2017

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