By Brandon Butler
Johnny Morris has become the Walt Disney of wildlife.
The Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium at Bass Pro Shops’ flagship store in Springfield, Missouri, is now open, and it is spectacular.
A group featuring two U.S. presidents, the Secretary of the Interior, state leaders, conservation leaders, outdoor industry professionals, NASCAR legends, movie stars, country music stars and more all gathered together to celebrate the unveiling of what most are calling the greatest fish and wildlife museum in the world.
Wonders of Wildlife is a celebration of fish and wildlife like no other. The vision of Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, comes alive in this incredible testament to his devotion to honoring the conservation legacy of North America and beyond.
As you make your way through the museum and aquarium, you pass through wildlife and habitat displays from different parts of the world, including the Rocky Mountains, southern bayous, plains of Africa and Arctic tundra. The aquarium takes you through many different fish habitats, including fresh water, salt water, swamp, coastal and deep ocean.
Your journey through the 350,000 square-foot complex introduces you to 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Hundreds of mounted fish, birds and mammals are also found throughout the museum. Much of the taxidermy is complemented by hand-painted backgrounds, making the scenes so lifelike you think twice before leaning in too close.
Legendary hunter Jim Shockey said, “Johnny is our leader in conservation. This is going to become the center of conservation. A celebration of what hunters, and anglers and outdoors people have done for the wildlife of this world.”
To complete the entire experience, you’ll cover more than 1.5 miles. Trails wind through diverse landscapes and habitats. Aquatic displays include pools where guests can touch stingrays on the ocean floor. This journey is more than just visual. You’ll experience the sounds, smells and climates of some of the wildest places on earth.
Galleries of art, especially those dedicated to Native Americans, are breathtaking. Special sections of the museum include the Boone & Crockett Club’s National Collection of Head and Horns, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, the International Game Fish Association’s Hall of Fame, and a special tribute to past U.S. presidents who were or remain anglers.
Wonders of Wildlife is a destination for all. It didn’t matter who I spoke with at the event — man or a woman, young or old, hunter or not. Everyone who took the tour was blown away.
Collin O’Mara, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation said, “Wonders of Wildlife is a place every American kid should have to come, because I think one of the best ways to inspire the next generation of conservationists is getting young kids engaged with wildlife. This is a great place to begin.”
Morris credits his own parents for instilling a love of the outdoors in him.
“My parents were both born in 1911. No running water in the house. No electricity. My mom was one of 10 kids in a two-bedroom house. But what they had then, they had the outdoors, and hunting and fishing. It’s family tradition,” Morris said.
The morning after the celebration, Morris convened a meeting of Bass Pro Shops conservation partners and business vendors. He talked at length about the state of his business and commitment to conservation, and how the two go hand in hand.
“I think our company and the outdoor industry, we all have a real obligation to give back to the future of the sports we love and have been our livelihood. This museum and aquarium is one way we can do that in a unique way. The whole facility is about celebrating the role that hunters and anglers have played in the country,” Morris said.
He praised the work of many in the room for their dedicated support of fish and wildlife.
“All these remarkable leaders, very talented people that have chosen to make conservation their life’s work. To get up everyday just fighting for us and the future, and for our kids and grandkids to have a place to grow up like we did. To see things like Lewis and Clark got to see all those years ago,” Morris said.
Wonders of Wildlife is so much more than a museum and aquarium. It’s a monument for conservation. This is a must-see destination for anyone who loves the outdoors, and all of us who hunt and fish owe Mr. Johnny Morris a tip of the old Bass Pro cap for all he has done to support conservation, which is simply the future’s ability to live as we live today.
“I’ve been very blessed my whole life. I grew up here in the Ozarks fishing on the White River with my mom and dad ever since I was a kid, and I’ve been so fortunate, really blessed, that my whole life I’ve been around something I love, and that’s fishing and the outdoors,” Morris said.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.