Article By Julia M. Johnson
If you’re going to be hosting events in southwest Missouri anytime soon, here’s your chance to do it with an eye toward saving the planet and its species.
Formally opening later this year is the new Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, adjacent to Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Springfield. The facility is the brainchild of Bass Pro founder and chief executive Johnny Morris, a noted conservationist and philanthropist. Its aim is to present an interactive experience celebrating the natural world, diversity of species, and the role responsible sportsmen and women play in wildlife preservation. Located in the Ozarks just 40 minutes north of Branson, the new facility is not far from area airports and Interstate 44, so getting there is simple.
The museum was developed to broaden guests’ understanding of the natural world and how to keep it thriving. And you know what else? It’s ideal for hands-on meetings and events that leave a lasting impression.
The planet’s the limit
A world-class aquarium and sense-stirring wildlife galleries are the hallmarks of this groundbreaking attraction, which measures a total of 315,000 square feet. When you visit, you’ll also experience more than 35,000 live animals including fish, mammals, reptiles and birds of more than 800 species. “Guests can go eye to eye with wildlife, and discover the greatest collection of record-setting game animals ever assembled,” says Jack Wlezien, director of communications for Bass Pro Group. “There are also completely immersive wildlife galleries with 4D dioramas that transport visitors to the wildest places on earth.”
The facility adjoins the 50,000-square-foot John and Genny Morris Conservation Center, which offers traditional banquet and meeting spaces, educational facilities, and archery and sporting arms exhibits.
“Most types of groups and events can be accommodated here,” Wlezien says of the complex. “Smaller meetings such as board gatherings likely will be a better fit for the Conservation Center, since the museum and aquarium are such an immersive and dynamic experience.” In short, with both the conservation center and museum facility on-site, a wide range of group sizes can be welcomed.
The new museum’s many attractions also include the International Fishing Hall of Fame, which is relocating from Florida. The Heritage Hunting Hall showcases game-animal habitats with true-to-life sound, wind and temperature effects. And the Boone and Crockett Club’s National Collection of Heads and Horns features more than 40 historically significant North American game mammals to highlight the importance of conservation.
Room for success
Here is an overview of the event spaces and galleries available at the complex, and their capacities for sit-down get-togethers. (Many of them can accommodate more for stand-up receptions and similar gatherings.)
Room No. of seated guests
Open Ocean Ring 75
Entry Hall 620
Great Barrier Reef Dropoff 175
Shipwreck Reef (upper level) 120
Shipwreck Reef (lower level) 60
Out to Sea Shark Gallery (lower level) 75
Out to Sea Shark Gallery (upper level) 75
Saltwater Game Fish Gallery 50
Lower Community Pond 50
Hands on, hearts in
There are plenty of opportunities to involve meeting participants in the aquarium and Wonders of Wildlife experience, Wlezien says. Attendees can touch and connect with live fish and other animals, and gain a renewed sense of accountability for our planet’s diverse wildlife.
“To say this venue is exceptional is an understatement,” says Lisa Alexander, president of the CoxHealth Foundation in Springfield, who planned a June 2016 event there. Although the facility hadn’t yet formally opened to the public, her organization was able to stage an “Under the Sea” themed cancer benefit dinner there. “Johnny Morris does not do anything that isn’t imaginative and world-class – but even those two descriptors don’t accurately describe the experience of the venue itself,” Alexander says.
“We used every inch of the Shipwreck Room, and comfortably seated 225 people,” she adds. “That room came with a two-level aquarium, a SCUBA diver who held up our sponsor signs, and more sea life to explore than most of our guests were able to do in the time we were there.” Her attendees enjoyed experiences such as an interactive “touch tank” with marine life, and a band and auction in the Theater Room. The Connector Room served as ideal space for the event’s speakers.
“The staff, the service, the total experience were all 10-star,” Alexander says. “That’s a new rating, but it’s well deserved by a place that’s so fantastic. We already have had letters and calls from people wanting in for next year’s event – a great problem to have, and the venue played a big role in that.”
More to love
Kevin Greim, senior director of athletics development for Missouri State University in Springfield, held a fund raiser for the school’s golf teams at the facility in spring 2016. “Our guests were completely blown away by the tour of the new aquarium,” he says. “It was a great lead-in to our dinner event. We could not have been happier with the experience. The attention to detail was outstanding.”
Katie Davis, chief executive officer of the Springfield-based nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks, was similarly pleased with her group’s “Patrons’ Party” for sponsors of its upcoming gala, which also will be held at the complex. Guests marveled at the Shipwreck gallery and enjoyed appetizer stations including a risotto bar, fresh fruit display, and a selection of meats and cheeses. They also bought raffle tickets for a guided “behind the scenes” tour of the museum.
“The evening was so special for our guests because they felt like they were getting an exclusive experience with an unforgettable backdrop,” Davis says. “The service was second to none, and the event coordinator made sure every detail was taken care of for us. It was a perfect venue for 100 of our VIP guests to experience something special.”
To preserve and protect
“The possibilities for customizing your Wonders of Wildlife experience are limitless,” Wlezien explains. “The aquarium already has hosted a fashion show, dinners, cocktail parties and a company picnic – even before our grand opening.” Entertainment has run the gamut from acrobats and live bands to face painters, balloon artists, celebrity autograph sessions, costumed characters and live animal encounters.
Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has called Wonders of Wildlife “one of the foremost conservation attractions in the world. There is a significant opportunity to reach millions of visitors about the importance of conserving, protecting and enhancing wildlife habitats,” he says.
So next time you need a natural environment for memorable Springfield events, consider offering your guests a Wonders of Wildlife experience to fire the senses and stir the imagination. They’ll come away with fond memories, stronger bonds, and a keener sense of responsibility to the world around us.
Visit www.wondersofwildlife.org for more information on the facility’s opening.
Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium
500 W. Sunshine St.
Springfield MO 65807