By: Leif Nordstrom
28 high school students from across the state joined us at scenic Camp Trinity for our second annual Missouri River Academy in New Haven, Missouri. During the camp, students would connect with the natural and cultural history of the Missouri River through adventure, exploration, and investigation. Students will discover the river ecosystems and the natural forces that shaped them, including ways that human activity have affected the river’s rhythm and flow.
Day 1 had us registering and settling in at our beautiful camp, with an introduction to the staff and the Missouri River. After introductions, students separated into teams to begin the much anticipated Missouri River Olympics. The first challenge required teams to face off in a heated “Rock, Paper, Scissors” tournament, with an added twist: whenever a participant lost a match, they had to hold the victor’s shoulders from behind, and chant their name until a champion was found, creating two large lines of students, all chanting in a hypnotic, unified rhythm as the final contestants faced-off. After the Olympic-excitement settled, students were introduced to their Missouri River Action project. Fellow MRR crew member and MEEA director, Jan Weaver, detailed the structure of the project, wherein students would identify an issue affecting the Missouri River, and develop a solution to address their chosen problem. We capped off an exciting first day with a campfire and s’mores, as local musicians Gloria and Michael came out to lead us in song.
Day 2 of the River Academy was spent on the river. We got out for a morning boat ride before it got too hot, explored, wondered and learned about the history of the Mighty Mo. While on the river, we observed a passing grain barge from Hermann Sand & Gravel, serving as an unexpected preface to the tour that we were to have on day 4.
After a bit of mucking around in the mud, we found a spot back at the boat ramp to settle in for some water-color painting and lunch. After lunch, we hit the Katy Trail for a bike ride through the river country side, followed by a tour of the old Peers Store, ice cream, a prairie tour and ended with dinner in Treloar, Missouri. Dan and Connie Burkhardt from the Katy Land Trust funded all of these activities, displaying some great river hospitality. Once we were back at camp, students continued to work on their Missouri River Action Project.
We then geared up for day 2 of Missouri River Olympics, competing in an activity called “birdy on the perch”, where contestants used hand/body motions as clues to distinguish between those that were ‘birdies’ and those that were ‘perch’. We concluded the day with a look at the stars through the eyes of the local Astronomy Club.
Day 3 of the Academy was spent both on and off the river. We began early, as our friends from Missouri River Bird Observatory came out to lead a presentation, where the students had a chance to locate birds using binoculars. Then we hit the river, where Mike Smith - a MRR crew member and retired teacher - guided the students through an exploration exercise, before we conducted a lightning-fast clean-up, which the students rocked.
After that, we hit the river, as the Missouri Department of Conservation brought out four boats to teach us different ways of catching fish. Finally, we ended with a sunset cruise, an "insects of the night" activity, and of course, another round of Missouri River Olympics! During the third Olympics challenge, students combined brain-power to solve difficult riddles.
Day 4 of the Missouri River Academy was all about Missouri River towns. First, we met up with David Menke, a New Haven historian, who talked about how the Missouri River played a role in its founding, including a riveting story about a Lewis and Clark companion. Then we walked a few blocks to Astral Glass, where we heard from Lance and Gary about their paddling trek of the upper Missouri River. Besides getting to see all the unique gear that they used during their trip, students were able to ask questions and hear tons of fun stories. Then we packed CSA (Community-Sourced Agriculture) boxes at Avant Garden in New Haven. Students had a blast sorting through blueberries and beets, while learning about locally sourced food.
Avant Garden provided a delectable lunch for us – BLT’s and potato salad – all consisting of locally sourced ingredients. After lunch, we took a tour of the Deutschheim State Historical Society in Hermann, Missouri. Students gained perspective of why people in history would choose to live on/near the river, and how their lifestyle was influenced by it. Next, we visited with Hermann Sand and Gravel, as we were afforded a tour of their expansive facility. Finally, we made our way back to New Haven to tour the New Haven office of Public Works, where we explored a waste-water treatment facility. Once we had returned to camp, students worked on their action projects, played “Zombie tag”, and capped off the night with an ice cream social.
Day 5 was an exciting end to our Missouri River Academy. Students spent the morning putting the finishing touches on their action projects. We had a picnic lunch next a small lake located in the camp, and shared our favorite moments of the camp during “Pass the Feather”, a MRR tradition. After lunch, students created posters to represent their action project, which they then displayed on the walls around our lodge. In the afternoon, parents began to arrive and students presented about their action projects to parents, staff, and other students. We could not have been more proud to witness the culmination of our campers’ hard work, expressed through passion, creativity, and maybe just a little bit of fun. As is life, all good things must come to an end; after the presentations we said our good-byes, and the campers began to depart. This year’s Academy ranks among the best, but we could not have done it without all of our wonderful presenters, staff, and volunteers, to whom we would like to extend a humongous Big Muddy thank you.