EAST PRAIRIE -- Looking to draw more visitors while educating about nature in Missouri, Big Oak Tree State Park will host a series of summer programs ranging from the history of snakes to the varieties of butterflies found in the area.
"It would be really nice to have a lot of people come out for these programs," said Allison Vaughn, natural resource steward for Big Oak Tree State Park in East Prairie.
Lately the park is starting to see more visitors from the Sikeston and Cape Girardeau areas, Vaughn said.
"And we get a lot of visitors late in the afternoons," Vaughn said.
The park's first program, "Live Snakes!," will be presented at 3 p.m. Saturday at the picnic shelter, which is the first building upon entering the park. Jeremy Soucy, education specialist from the Cape Girardeau Nature Center, will discuss the life histories and importance of snakes in the landscape and answer questions about snakes.
"The big key is he's going to bring live snakes -- most of the ones will be Missouri snakes. That's one of the things we're trying to let people realize, even though we don't have boas, we have really cool snakes," Vaughn said.
Soucy will bring one venomous -- the water moccasin -- and discuss ways to identify snakes. It's also a way to clear up any misconceptions, such as the differences between water snakes and water moccasins, Vaughn said. "Kids learn about nature through television. They might know more about South America than they do Missouri," Vaughn said.
Then at 9 a.m. June 9 visitors will have the opportunity to learn about butterflies through the National Butterfly Survey.
"The butterfly program is part of a national survey we're going on, and the staff entomologist will be leading a guided hike to catch and identify the several species of butterflies in the park," Vaughn said.
The rescue and rehabilitation group with the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park will offer the Raptor Awareness program at 5 p.m. June 16 at the park's picnic shelter.
"For the World Bird Sanctuary to come to the park is a special deal," Vaughn said. "Normally these programs take place in urban areas so we're really fortunate."
The Sanctuary will bring in eagles, owls, hawks and all of the different raptors for visitors to see up close and personal, Vaughn said.
"(After the Raptor Awareness) We'll take a couple weeks off and in July, we'll start up with turtles and rotate animals and plants," Vaughn said, adding July dates haven't been established.
Programs are free to the public and for people of all ages. The presentations will generally last about an hour although the butterfly hike may take longer, Vaughn said.
"They're not going to talk over anybody's head," Vaughn said about the researchers who will be presenting.
The summer programs are part of the park's effort to bring visitors to the area for the cultural aspect, Vaughn said.
"This is a first for our staff," said Vaughn, who joined the park staff in December 2005. "We hired a bunch of researchers, and they will be presenting (for the rest of the summer) on the animals and plants we know best."
Open daily from 6 a.m. to sunset, Big Oak Tree State Park is located 14 miles south East Prairie on Highway 102. For more information contact the park at (573) 649-3149.
The park's first program, "Live Snakes!," will be presented at 3 p.m. Saturday at the picnic shelter.