Williamsburg woman receives lifetime achievement award from Conservation Federation

— Pat Jones has loved spending time outdoors since childhood summers spent on a family farm in Eureka.

Jones has been sharing that love with other young people since 1997, when she donated 700 acres to the Missouri Department of Conservation and the University of Missouri’s School of Natural Resources to create the Prairie Fork Conservation Area.

For that donation, and for a lifetime of support for conservation causes, Jones recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Conservation Federation of Missouri.

She was nominated for the award by Ron Coleman, former executive director of the Open Space Council for the St. Louis region.

According to materials provided by the Conservation Federation, Jones was selected “for her amazing conservation philanthropy to help protect our land and water resources through such endeavors as donating funds to help acquire hundreds of acres of land in the pristine La Barque Creek Watershed in North Jefferson County, Missouri.

“(For) Donating her home place farm to the Missouri Department of Conservation which will be managed as the Prairie Fork Conservation Area as a natural laboratory to educate the public-especially youth about the value of wildlife habitat, soil and water resources.”

The release also referenced her support of the Missouri Stream Team Program and her support — along with her late husband, Ted — of Missouri state parks such as the Katy Trail and the Confluence State Park in St. Charles County.

“The depth and breadth of Mrs. Jones’ conservation legacy has touched the lives of every Missourian and countless others around the globe,” the release states.

Jones was honored again April 10 for her work in conservation, this time with the Frederick B. Mumford Award for Distinguished Service from the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources — from which she graduated in 1950 with a degree in soil science.

Although both awards make reference to her financial assistance and participation in a string of conservation agencies, it is the Prairie Fork Conservation Area that will be Jones’ most lasting legacy.

Originally purchased by Jones’ father-in-law — Edward Jones, founder of Edward Jones Investments — in 1943, Jones said she donated the land at Prairie Fork to the Department of Conservation and the School of Natural Resources in part because that is what her husband wanted.

Another reason was to instill an appreciation for nature in the next generation.

“How are they ever going to grow up to care if they don’t have a place to go?” Jones, who still lives on-site, asked. “We had a place, that’s how I learned.”

Although it is not a public-use facility, Prairie Fork is part of MDC’s Discover Nature Schools program and draws hundreds of school children to explore and learn about the prairie, wetlands and wooded areas that comprise the area.

According to Jamie Coe, who works for Jones and helps manage the property along with MDC and the university, using the property as an outdoor classroom was her idea.

“It was Pat’s idea to get the young kids out here. She used to go greet the buses and say — ‘What would you say, Pat?’” Coe said.

“Come learn, have fun and get dirty,” Jones responded. “It’s a lot of fun to see the kids have a good time — I see little girls out at the pond, and they say, ‘We’re going to get dirty now.’

“That’s what it’s all about — we wouldn’t have this place if the kids didn’t care.”

Coe said the motto at Prairie Fork is “education, restoration and research.”

In addition to educational visits from schools and other groups, Prairie Fork serves as an outdoor laboratory fisheries, forestry and soil classes from Mizzou.

And then there are the restoration efforts.

“We’ve been restoring 30-40 acres per year,” Coe said. “When we first started, there were less than 100 species of prairie plants. Now we’re up to 230. Our goal is to get the farm back to pre-settlement vegetation.”

Asked why conservation was so important to her, Jones seemed confused as to why it would not be. She repeatedly referred to the time she spent escaping St. Louis to the family farm in Eureka, near what is now the Young Conservation Area.

“We had a good time, and a lot of fun,” Jones said. “When you grow up on a place like that … it was unique area, and now they’re thinking of making the whole area into a park.”

Coe, who has worked at Prairie Fork for 20 years, also could attest to Jones’ lifelong love of the outdoors through having ties to Eureka.

“She used to say if they didn’t get out to the summer place on weekends, it was a lost weekend,” Coe said.

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