Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium is a monument to the conservation role of sportsmen and women.
Johnny Morris has opened a national museum and aquarium like no other. The structures fittingly are connected to the Springfield, Missouri Bass Pro "Grand Daddy" of all the Bass Pro stores. The 350,000-square foot experience is larger than the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. It is represented to be the "largest, most immersive wildlife attraction in the world." What is even more important, it showcases the conservation role of hunters and anglers like no other institution of its magnitude anywhere or at any time. It serves as a monument in unabashed celebration of the wholesome sporting way of life we hold so dearly, and the conservation role of sportsmen and women. Johnny "is committed to celebrating the rich history of hunting and angling in America and the vital role sportsmen and women have played and continue to play in conservation."
Wonders of Wildlife gives much more than lip service to the essential conservation role that hunters and anglers have played in perpetuating our natural world. The facts are demonstrated throughout in thousands of historical photographs, documents, and artifacts. In Johnny's words, "Wonders of Wildlife is an inspirational journey around the world that celebrates the role of hunters and anglers as America's true conservation heroes."
The Museum is more than a collection of animals, fish, and memorabilia of the American hunting and fishing heritage. It is the new home of many other museums that have been wholly or partially relocated to the giant plaza. That includes the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum with a special section on "A Golden Age of Hunting." Another is the Archery Hall of Fame and Museum with everything from Geronimo's bow to Fred Bear's record Alaskan brown bear. There is the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Room, which includes an original 1907 personal letter on White House stationary from President Roosevelt to the president of NRA, with $25.00 for a Life Membership and strong words of endorsement. The museum houses the Hemingway Hall, with many of his safari and marlin fishing pictures and relevant quotes. The museum houses a fishing section devoted to the fishing escapades of Presidents of the United States, and two presidents spoke during the opening ceremonies and a third by video recording. Another section is the International Game Fish Association Fishing Hall of Fame, which includes fascinating personal memorabilia of all the Hall of Fame award winners, including those of William (Bill) Poole, who was so renowned in both the safari hunting and fishing world and is part of its greater Heritage Fishing Hall. Other sections hold the National Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Another displays racing vehicles from NASCAR.
Part of the museum is dedicated to the fishing escapades of various US presidents.
There are sections devoted to Safari Club International, Dallas Safari Club, Wild Sheep Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, Boone & Crocket, et al. Boone & Crockett's National Collection of Heads and Horns is now housed in the museum.
There is a large section honoring Native Americans, "The First People of Conservation." It is connected to the Buffalo Hall lined on both sides with a herd-sized collection of whole mounted bison as well as the full story of their decline and restoration.
Enough cannot be said about the countless personal artifacts of famous hunters and anglers, such as the full-size boats of Ernest Hemingway (Pilar), Zane Grey (Avalon), and Don Tyson in the Fishing Heritage Hall. To quote Zane Grey, "If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago."
The quality of the museum experience is also beyond compare and genuinely immersive as represented. The room climate matches the particular "4D" dioramic depictions. The sky lighting cycles through the full 24 hours of night and day while the different habitats have appropriate smells and matching night and day sounds. You literally feel the chill of the Arctic, the cold winds of the Himalayas, the dry sun of the African Savannah and more. It is designed to awaken and stimulate one's senses just like the natural world known so well to sportsmen and women.
Ryan Zinke addressed the invitees to the opening as Secretary of the Interior and as a sportsman.
At the historic ribbon cutting ceremony the speakers included Johnny Morris, President George W. Bush, President Jimmy Carter, actor Kevin Costner, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, Richard Childress, Missouri Governor Eric Gretens, Shane Mahoney of Conservation Force and Conservation Visions, and others. Kevin Costner surprised the audience when he announced with a smile that "I was once a poacher." He then explained when he was 10 years old he was no respecter of property lines, and hunted where he wanted. Secretary Zinke scuba dove in the shark pool and answered school children's questions underwater early in the day. (See picture taken by yours truly.) Later during the ribbon cutting, the Secretary used the occasion to sign an order commencing October as a new National Hunting and Fishing Month.
The indescribable grand opening ceremony on September 20 was followed the next morning with a Conservation Summit of the business and conservation partners of Bass Pro Stores and hundreds of sportsmen conservation leaders who were VIP Invitees like Conservation Force. First Johnny disclosed that after a year of preparation he was to purchase Cabela's the next Monday with the full intent to keep those stores open. The net effect is broader market coverage. The theme of the Summit was to step up conservation, not just to continue it. The speakers opined that conservation is no longer just a moral obligation of the sporting community. It is a necessary "investment" if there is to be wildlife in the future. (Interestingly, no one thought this was counterintuitive because it is not.) Johnny suggested that businesses voluntarily direct a small share of their revenue to fund a greater investment and that everyone partner together to advance that greater good.
Secretary Zinke (in the background diving in the shark tank) and the students of the WOLF school program give the museum a thumbs up.
The complex also has a connected Johnny Morris Conservation Education Center that in part houses the WOLF school of select fifth grade children that must qualify for admission. That is the same class that asked Secretary Zinke questions while he was diving. WOLF stands for the Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility. As a national model for outdoor education, WOLF operates in partnership with the local school system.
The complex is only a one-hour drive from Johnny's 4,600-acre lakeside Big Cedar Lodge retreat on which is another Bass Pro Store and Museum in Missouri's Ozark Mountains. That is just south of Branson and, like the National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, takes days to see. The two campuses together can easily consume a week.
Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro Shops (center), with Chrissie and John J. Jackson of Conservation Force.
One could write a book about all that the two facilities offer but for Conservation Force the positive message about sportsmen and women is most important. The Springfield complex took nine years to complete and is designed to be "an inspirational tribute to the adventurers, explorers, outdoorsmen and conservationists who helped discover, develop and preserve the nation we love. … The critical bond that links many of America's great public and private conservationists is an abiding love for hunting and fishing. It's through these endeavors that many of the leading conservationists of yesterday and today learned to appreciate the essential role that responsible sportsmen and women play in preserving our rivers and forests. Hunters and anglers have spearheaded the stewardship of this nation's natural resources…. The millions of anglers and hunters who venture into the woods, streams and oceans of America are the true heroes in the cause of conservation. They are the ones that are inspiring the next generation to love the outdoors. It is as a tribute to them and as an inspiration to future generations that Johnny Morris has created the Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium…. The museum and aquarium pay homage to the sportsmen and women of today and tomorrow with the knowledge that the surest way to preserve our rich outdoor heritage is to expose more people to its awe-inspiring beauty."
Johnny obviously intends that the nonprofit Wonders of Wildlife and Aquarium and its Conservation Center serve as a conservation wellspring to enhance the conservation paradigm in America, to "invest" more than to just "give back" in the future. Johnny is a "giver" because he is a hunter and angler. He cares. We are excited to see this emphasis on conservation and positive imaging of sportsmen and women. Johnny's conservation ethic is welcome and promising.