SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - A new museum in southwest Missouri was recently named the #1 New Attraction in the entire country by USA Today. The man behind Bass Pro Shops is also the mastermind behind Wonders of Wildlife. But this new attraction in Springfield is just a taste of how Johnny Morris is transforming the Ozark Mountains right now.
WoW spokesperson Shelby Stephenson says it's hard to compare this museum to anything else you've ever seen.
"Any other museum or aquarium you've been to really doesn't compare to this," she said.
Not only is it designed to be totally immersive, but it's also massive in size, larger than even the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
"Not only are you taking a journey around the world through some of the planet's most extreme habitats, but you are also stepping inside those habitats," Stephenson said.
Wonders of Wildlife had its grand opening in late 2017. This may have been the first indication of the impact this museum when dignitaries like former presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter were in attendance. They were joined by Hollywood stars Kevin Costner and Mark Wahlberg. But when you have a business and environmental track record like Johnny Morris, it's easy to understand the buzz.
"(Morris) always wanted to create a place where people could come and experience nature and be inspired by nature," Stephenson said. "…All with the goal that it would inspire them to get involved in conservation."
The museum has two main galleries with over a mile of immersive trails. One gallery showcases life under the water. The other side are the wildlife galleries where you get a look at nature in a way that most people have never seen before.
"You are going to hear the elephants trumpeting you'll hear the lion's roar," Stephenson said. "There is not an experience anywhere like this because nowhere else do you get to stand and see how tall you would be next to a giraffe."
Wonders of Wildlife adds to the extensive portfolio that Johnny Morris has amassed over the past few decades since founding Bass Pro Shops in Springfield. His reputation for excellence has opened up doors and opened up the floodgates of tourism to the Ozark Mountains.
Branson Mayor Linda Best says his name alone on a project can attract attention across the world.
"When he does things, he does them absolutely perfectly," Best said. "If it's not perfect, he will keep changing it until it is perfect."
Branson realtor Chris Vinton agrees, saying you should never underestimate what Morris sets out to accomplish.
"Five years ago, if would you have told me that Johnny Morris was going to build a course designed by Tiger Woods, I would say not in a million years," Vinton said. "Ten minutes later, the jets are landing."
Morris will soon have four top-flight golf courses in the Branson area with some of the biggest names in golf as the designers. From names like Tiger Woods, Crenshaw, Nicklaus, Palmer and others, everyone seems to be a part of Morris' major projects these days.
Locals believe he is designing the courses for a bigger purpose. Many of his courses sit in close proximity to the relatively new Branson International Airport, which allows stars like Michael Jordan to fly in, play a round of golf, and depart without much fanfare. One local executive, who asked to remain anonymous, says that he thinks Morris' courses will soon be a regular stop on the PGA Tour, bringing even more attention to the Ozarks.
Factor in the changes to Big Cedar Lodge resort and upgrades to the 10,000-acre Dogwood Canyon, and you can see why local leaders are so excited about Johnny Morris' work in the area.
"Johnny's greatest passion is inspiring people to spend more time outdoors with the intent that when they do spend time outdoors they are going to learn to love the outdoors and they're going to want to protect it for their children and their grandchildren and get involved in conservation," Stephenson said.
Mayor Best sums up what many are thinking.
John has this incredible vision," he said. "I wish he would let me in on just a glimpse of what he is thinking."