Missouri River Academy

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Noah Kresse, a junior at Washington High School, feels a connection to the Missouri River, which cuts its path just a few blocks north of his house.

He volunteers for organized river cleanups, like the one planned for Saturday, April 8, at the Washington riverfront, and he likes to ride his bike there sometimes just to take in the scenery.

Last summer, Kresse, who would love one day to work for the Missouri Department of Conservation, was able to dive further into his river interest with the Missouri River Academy, a five-day/four-night summer camp held in New Haven for students entering eighth- through 12th-grade led by Missouri River Relief.

Campers spent their days exploring the river with activities that included collecting trash found in and along the river, creating watercolor paintings of river scenes and touring both a sand plant and water treatment facility.

For Kresse, it was as educational as it was fun.

“I really like being out in nature, and I was in an environment with other people who enjoyed being in nature too, with peers,” he said.

A commercial fisherman showed the students how he positions nets to catch fish and brought caviar for them to taste, if they wanted to.

Other speakers talked to the students about how they catch and tag birds at certain times of the year they can track them.

“They showed us how pollution is affecting the way the birds migrate,” said Kresse.

His favorite activity last year was when Mike Smith explained to them how the cottonwood trees came to grow along the river.

“The seeds were washed downriver and back into the forest, where they grew, and when the banks eroded, the trees that were in the front died so the ones in the back got the sunlight, and they grew. Then they passed their seeds downriver,” said Kresse.

His father, Josh Kresse, was impressed with the variety of subjects Noah was exposed to at the Missouri River Academy. It’s not just a recreational camp about having fun on the river, it includes math, science, history, art . . .

“It teaches them how the river affects our day-to-day lives,” said Josh Kresse.

That ultimately is the goal of the academy.

“We hope they walk away as knowledgeable ecologists, insightful historians and conscientious community members,” said Kristen Schulte, education coordinator for Missouri River Relief, a grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting people to the Missouri River. “Those are the three things we focus on — the ecology, the history and the stewardship.”

Now Accepting Registrations

The 2017 Missouri River Academy, which will be held July 9-13, is still a few months away, but Noah Kresse is looking forward to its return. He’s already registered.

“I want to try to get more out of it this year . . . really focus on everything the best I can,” he said.

Kresse will serve as a counselor-in-training for this year’s students, which means he’ll be in more of a leadership role among the campers, said Schulte.

The registration deadline for the 2017 Missouri River Academy is June 28, but applications already are being accepted. There is room for 30 students.

The deadline to apply for financial aid is June 14.

Information and application forms are available at www.riverrelief.org/ /updates/entry/2017-missouri-river-academy/.

This will be the fifth year for the Missouri River Academy but only the second year that it has been offered as an overnight residential program, said Schulte.

Students stay overnight at Camp Trinity in New Haven, which is about 4 miles from the Missouri River. Before selecting Camp Trinity, Schulte looked at around 150 possible locations between Omaha, Neb., and St. Louis. She liked Camp Trinity because its proximity to the river, the facilities were exactly what they needed, and staff was friendly.

The first three years, the academy operated as a partnership with Summers at Mizzou, a summer program hosted by the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Last year there were 18 students from both urban and rural towns within the Missouri River Relief coverage area, which begins in Yankton, S.D., and ends at the confluence in the St. Louis area. Some came from as far away as Omaha, Neb., and Kansas City. A handful were from St. Louis.

“Half were students who had grown up on the river or been coming to Missouri River Relief river cleanups, and the other half had never been on the river, had no idea anything about it,” said Schulte.

Schulte said it’s fun to see the students from such different backgrounds get to know each other.

“It’s a really cool thing that happens with these students that very first day,” she said. “They talk about where they are from, big cities and small towns, and they ask each other questions about their towns. It’s so interesting because of the city-rural breakdown. They don’t have any idea what each other does for fun.”

‘We Experience the River’

The interests of the students at camp are varied, so the first day is spent connecting them to the river, exploring their connection to it.

The second day they dive in deep with hands-on lessons about ecology and discussion of the different components that this ecosystem is made of.

“We experience the river a lot,” said Schulte. “We go out and spend some time on the motorboats — we have 24-foot aluminum plate boats that we take them out on. We will stop and do watercolors, do observation activities, sort of taking everything in.”

This year the acadmey is partnering with the Katy Land Trust, which is sponsoring a bicycle ride on the Katy Trail. So one day of camp, the students will spend time on the river but stop in Marthasville for a bicycle ride to Peers Store in Treloar.

“We’ll talk about the history of the river and how the river has changed. We’ll do some bush honeysuckle removal, talk about invasive species and then we’ll have dinner in Treloar,” said Schulte.

One of the goals of the academy is to build on the teens’ relationship with the river, whether they arrive at camp with a strong relationship or one that’s brand new, “so they can have a stronger appreciation for the Missouri River,” Schulte said.

At the end of each day, students work on something called a Missouri River Action Project, which is a topic they select, research and then create a poster of their findings that will be hung in a gallery on the last day of camp.

“Our focus is on teaching them to look at issues and think about them in a systems-thinking model. They dissect their issue, figure out who the audience is, research what is the actual problem and then design a plan or an idea that is specific to their community,” said Schulte.

“We really focus on going through the process. We kind of think of that as being an invaluable skill for their future.”

Topics have included endangered species, invasive species, sand dredging, river navigation and trash on the river.

People from the New Haven community were invited to attend the presentations last year.

Want More Local Students to Apply

Schulte is hopeful that more kids from across Franklin County will apply for the academy this year. She has spoken to more than 500 students at Washington Middle School about the camp.

There is a fee for students to attend the camp, but Schulte said parents shouldn’t let that deter them from registering their student.

Financial aid is available.

Students who are applying for financial aid, should complete that process before registering for camp because financial aid recipients will receive a separate registration link when they are awarded financial aid.

As a parent, Josh Kresse encourages more parents to consider the camp for their teens.

“Missouri River Relief is such a great organization, and to do an educational outreach like this to teach kids about one of the largest rivers in North America and the world, which is right here, is just fantastic,” he said. “It’s an enormous part of our environment, and our economy and everything else.”

For more information on Missouri River Reliev, go to www.riverrelief.org.

Teenagers wanting to get a taste of a little what the Missouri River Academy will be like can attend the Washington River Festival and Cleanup being held at the Washington riverfront Saturday, April 8, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. The Missouri River cleanup starts at 9 a.m.