The Plant Doctor's Legacy

Room to explore acres of prairie and woodlands makes George Washington Carver National Monument an inviting place for families and children.  The recently renovated and expanded visitor center building is a bonus.  However, getting outdoors is exactly what inspired the young boy who grew up in Southwest Missouri to learn all he could about the natural world.  It's fitting that the highlight of a visit to Carver's boyhood home today is a stroll, skip or jog along a mile-long trail.  The African American child born in Diamond Grove as a slave went on to beome a respected Tuskegee Institute professor and gain global acclaim for his advances in agriculture and science.

The trail that is partially paved and partially gravel seems accessible by wheelchair.  It crosses the creek multiple times along sturdy wooden bridges.  The woods all around, a pond and a cross-fenced field offer convenient chances to observe plant and animal life.  My preschool-aged girls planned on observing something that they could later record in their new nature notebooks (an activity suggested in some of the Monument's website materials).  Carter Monument offers teachers and parents help with curriculum ideas, and the possibilities for using nature as a classroom are endless.

The trail features a serene statue of a boyish Carver.  At the trail's entrance, today's kids have the chance to step inside the reconstructed foundation of a tiny log cabin, to gain some perspective on the realities of slave life in the 1860s.  The visitor center, expanded now to more than triple its original size, offers a historically furnished classroom, modern teaching laboratory, theater, multipurpose room, and new hands-on activities in addition to traditional museum diplays.  The quality of microscopes freely accessible to young children appeared amazingly good.

This place of inspiration honors a scientist perhaps best known for finding 300 ways to use the peanut.  His work in agriculture encouraged Southern farmers to grow peanuts and soybeans instead of only cotton.  Yet, Carver's body of accomplishments, too numerous to list here, have improved life for us all.  Carver lived on a meager professor's salary, refusing the wealth he could have gained from patents, and crediting his brilliant gift for scientific discovery to his Creator.  As for all of his discoveries, Carter is quoted as saying,  "Without God to draw aside the curtain I would be helpless." 
40,000 people visit Carver Monument each year.  About 7,000 of those are school children.  As you might imagine, the Park Service representatives who run the site not only conduct tours, but lead classes and special events throughout the year.  Park Guide Anne Johnson says, "My favorite is Prairie Day," a time when she and others dress in period costume and offer historic activities for students.  The Monument is open 362 days of the year.  It hosts a Holiday Open House on December 11 from 1:00-3:00 pm.  The Open House will include live musicians, free historic crafts and refreshments.  More information at this National Park Service website.

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