Andy Ostmeyer: A Missouri outdoor holiday? Why not?

Andy Ostmeyer, The Joplin Globe, Mo.
·3 min read

Feb. 23—Maybe it's coming out of the worst of winter, but a tweet making the rounds recently hooked me.

"Who thinks March 1 — the opening day of trout season — should be a state holiday?"

Yep, I thought, and retweeted.

March 1 has always been for me the unofficial launch of spring, and not just because I've spent a few of them at Roaring River — working (but afterward getting in some fishing).

You can sometimes find dogtooth violet pushing up through the leaf litter by March 1, and the Summer Triangle is making its appearance low in the east just before sunrise. And I know I have to get the mower tuned up and the blade sharpened and clean up a winter's worth of leaves that the wind has whipped into every corner and cranny around the house.

The tweet was meant to be lighthearted, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought: Why not? Seriously, why not a state outdoor holiday?

Many of conservation's best ideas that originally seemed far-fetched now seem far sighted, such as setting aside large tracts of land as wilderness areas.

Such as the Missouri sales taxes to support conservation and the second sales tax to support state parks and soil conservation.

Such as protecting wolves, bears and more as endangered species.

And who would have imagined we'd set aside the best of our Ozark rivers as national parks — the first federally protected rivers in the nation — and protecting another as one of the country's first National Wild and Scenic Rivers?

The proposal for a state holiday on March 1 was meant tongue-in-cheek, but which is crazier: a Missouri outdoor holiday to reconnect a lost generation with the outdoors, or the world we live in today with a generation growing up indoors, their faces buried in screens rather than bronzed by the sun?

The free-range childhood I knew as a kid, where I was expected to be outdoors from dawn until dusk, and often wanted to be outdoors even longer, is extinct, gone the way of the Carolina parakeet.

Which is more far-fetched: a Missouri outdoor holiday, or our current predicament, where prisoners actually get more time in the "yard" than children spend in their own yards?

That answers itself.

A Missouri outdoor holiday — reconnecting residents with their public lands and parks — would not only be good for us but good for the environment. As Aldo Leopold warned, the greatest threat to the outdoor way of life comes from those who think they can live without it.

It wasn't that many years ago that some area schools closed for Opening Day of trout season, ostensibly for the kids, but let's be candid: Teachers and administrators are not infrequent visitors to our trout streams on Opening Day. Same goes for the first day of deer season.

So seriously, why not a Missouri outdoor holiday? Maybe not on March 1, but what about the first Friday closest to summer solstice, creating a three-day weekend wrapped around the longest days of the year? Or how about the third Friday in October, a recognition that the Ozarks and October are a marriage made in heaven?

In September 1947, Leopold, during his last visit to Missouri, said: "Conservation, at bottom, rests on the conviction that there are things in this world more important than dollar signs. ... Many of these other things attach to the land and to the life that is on it and in it."

He then warned that already the number of people who believed that that were becoming scarce, "but less so in Missouri than elsewhere. That is why conservation is possible here."

Most famously, he added: "If conservation can become a living reality anywhere, it can do so in Missouri. This is because Missourians are not yet completely industrialized in mind and spirit, and I hope never will be."

A Missouri outdoor holiday would be a step toward making sure our mind and spirit stay that way.

Andy Ostmeyer is the editor of The Joplin Globe. His email address is aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.