A first of its kind river academy is giving local teens a chance to learn more about a waterway they see every day and take for granted.
The Missouri River Academy, sponsored by Missouri River Relief (MRR) based in Columbia, is in session this week and each day campers get a chance to see a different part of the river ecosystem and ways to preserve it for future generations.
Missouri River Relief education coordinator Kristen Schulte said they have done similar lessons on the river in the past, but this is the first week-long program they’ve attempted.
“Doing a multi-day program lifts the time constraints and gives us a chance to expand more on topics,” Schulte said. “We’ve got 18 campers this week and we are hoping for 30 next year.”
Each day of the week focuses on a different area of river conservation and stewardship.
Monday the campers, from towns all over Missouri, got a chance to get out on the water and participate in a floating classroom in the middle of the river.
Schulte instructed the campers to focus on different objects along the banks or in the water and go beyond just looking at the object and look beyond it to help really understand it.
She then prompted sentence starters to get everyone talking and thinking more in-depth.
“We want you to be really good observers,” Schulte said. “Scientists and ecologists do this all the time. Don’t let your mind slip into idle mode.”
After a bit of drifting, the boats fired back up and headed up river to a landing near an old bridge over Smith Creek near Bernheimer converted for walking and biking as part of the Katy Trail.
Here, the campers got out of the boats and spent some time on the banks painting the scenery around them.
For many in the group, this was their first time in a boat and out on a riverbank.
Schulte and another group leader explained one of their main goals is to get kids out of their comfort zones.
Another hope is by the end of the day or week, the outdoors will become a comfort zone and they will see nature in a different way then they had even seen it that morning.
In addition to their day on the river, campers will spend the rest of the week learning the behind the scenes work done to keep the river flowing and clean, which will consist of studies of ecology, and a tour of the New Haven wastewater facility.
While not on the riverbanks, the campers are overnighting at Camp Trinity, just outside New Haven.
Schulte said she contacted more than 50 camps from as far away as Omaha before finding Camp Trinity and had nothing but great things to say about the facility and its staff.
The camp was open to teens from all over Missouri, there were a few locals from Washington and New Haven who wanted to learn more about the river that has no doubt become a major part of their lives whether they know it or not.
Other campers came from St. Louis and as far away as Kansas City.
Family and friends are welcome to come and learn about what issues on the Missouri River sparked campers’ interests and the plan that they have developed to address their issue in their community.
The presentation will take place at the end of the Academy on Thursday, July 14, at 1 p.m. at the Old New Haven School Building, located at 810 Maupin Ave, New Haven.
For more information on the river academy or Missouri River Relief you can visit its website at www.riverrelief.org.