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Missouri River Days Camp allows students to get up close and personal with nature

A woman is holding a net above a fish tank full of water and small fish.
Ava Neels
The camp is available to Columbia fourth graders. The camp focuses on environmental science and biology.

Missouri River Days is a half-day field trip offered to all fourth-graders at Columbia Public Schools in partnership with the nonprofit group Missouri River Relief. The field trip is held at Cooper’s Landing Riverside Resort & Marina, where students have the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature.

Kids run around outside and chat with each other at Cooper's Landing along the Missouri River.

“This is Missouri River Days. It's a half day field trip that is with the entire fourth grade and Columbia Public Schools, and we're having a lot of fun," Missouri River Relief Education Director Kristen Schulte said excitedly.

Schulte is in charge of making sure everything moves smoothly as hundreds of students come to explore Cooper’s Landing and the Missouri River. The Missouri River Relief has been hosting Missouri River Days Camp since 2016.

“We have learned all sorts of things along the way, and at this point, [we] are just a really well-oiled machine and we've got some veteran volunteers that come back every single year, and to provide this unique experience," she said.

My favorite moment is when the kids get on the boat, and they call it river air conditioning.
Michael De Leon, Cooper's Landing General Manager

The field trip has four different activities and more than 30 volunteers that help carry it out. They hold the event twice a day for three days. 800 fourth graders in Columbia got a chance to experience it this year. One of the activities included a motorboat ride on the Missouri River. Schulte said for some students, it was their very first time on the river.

After a safety talk by Missouri River Relief Board Member Barney Combs, students geared up with life jackets and headed out on the Missouri’s muddy waters. Once out on the water, Combs said the students got to put their scientific skills to the test.

"They get to kind of act like scientists and do investigative thinking while they're out on the river," he said. "They can ask any kind of question they want, and learn all about the river while they're out there having fun on a boat ride.”

Combs added this is the perfect age for students to get out and explore.

“With this program, they're right in the middle of nature. And at a fourth grade level, they're very inquisitive. They ask a lot of questions. And plus, they just have a lot of fun," he said.

There are picnic tables and a building with a sign that says 'Cooper's Landing Campground & Marina' with an awning underneath it.
Ava Neels
Missouri River Relief organizes several different education programs, many of which are hosted at Cooper's Landing.

Cooper’s Landing General Manager Michael De Leon highlighted his favorite moment: witnessing the sheer excitement the kids have when it comes to the river.

“My favorite moment is when the kids get on the boat, and they call it river air conditioning. So basically, they start the boat, they'll stop it, and then they'll just go really fast. When you see, you'll hear all the kids, they just scream. It's so loud. It's awesome," De Leon said. "It just is almost like a river roller coaster for them."

Once back to land, students switched stations, where they headed to paint with watercolors and then a nature hike with a master naturalist. At the last station, students got to meet fisheries biologist Kiah Wright. She works for the Missouri Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit.

“So we have fish that have all been caught around Columbia here. These are all fish from Missouri. We have a couple of bigger fish that people might go fishing for like large mouth bass and crappie. And then," Wright paused to point at one. "These are my favorite. We have some smaller stream fish like darters and shiners, and some madtoms as well.”

Cooper's Landing General Manager De Leon said the program is an investment for the future of the Missouri River.

“These are the future of river relief, these are the kids [who] are going to be working for river relief, you know, in the next 15-20 years," he said. "They're going to be the ones who are basically keeping the river clean. So I do think it's important to introduce them to what the Missouri River is, and all the things that it provides.”

Ava Neels studies journalism and Chinese language at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She was born and raised in South City St. Louis.
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