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One young Nature Camp participant holds a turtle during the Missouri Department of Conservation’s turtle mark/recapture project at the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area/Courtesy of David Stonne, Missouri Department of Conservation.

One young Nature Camp participant holds a turtle during the Missouri Department of Conservation’s turtle mark/recapture project at the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area/Courtesy of David Stonne, Missouri Department of Conservation.

Into the Wild! Nature Camp for Kids in Columbia, Missouri

Kids in Columbia, Missouri, have a great opportunity to get out and enjoy nature, especially those children with little experience in the outdoors.  In July 2013, a nature camp for inner-city youth was hosted by Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, Paul McKenzie and Anna Clark as part of the Club Connect Kid summer camp. The nature camp, held at various sites near Columbia, Missouri, was part of a four-week Club Kid Connect summer camp, which provides recreational and outdoor activities during summer to African American children who attend Columbia area schools. During the nature camp part of Club Kid Connect, children from ages 4 to 15 had fun outside while learning a little something about their natural world.

Club Kid Connect was conducted in partnership with the United Community Cathedral Church, United Way of Central Missouri and United Community Builders Community Development Corporation.  Other partners helping during the four days of the nature camp were Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Missouri Department of Conservation, and Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Division of State Parks.

The first day of Nature Camp found staff guiding participants on a tour of Conner’s Cave at Rock Bridge State Park.  During their tour they searched for fish, crayfish and frogs in Devil’s Icebox Cave Stream.  Later in the day they learned how to identify dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and wildflowers and had a fun quiz on types of wildlife found in the Park.
A week later, during the second day of Nature Camp, the kids took part in a nature trivia quiz game before hiking to Shooting Star Bluff scenic overlook in Rock Bridge State Park.  Biologists helped the kids use binoculars and playback bird songs on an IPod to learn how to identify birds and their songs. In addition to bird identification, Paul provided instruction on a few plants, especially those that should be avoided, like poison ivy and stinging nettle.  He also showed everyone the types of trees under which morel mushrooms are often found.

The next Nature Camp day was spent along Gan’s Creek at Rock Bridge State Park, where the boys and girls caught crayfish, frogs and butterflies.   A highlight of the day was the discovery of the trunk of a very large, old tree in Gan’s Creek.  The tree, probably unearthed during flash floods earlier in the spring, was tentatively identified as a black walnut.  Steps are now underway by Missouri DNR and Rock Bridge State Park, in cooperation with dendrochronologists at the University of Missouri, to determine the age and size of the tree.

During their last day of camp, Nature Camp attendees got to be part of a turtle mark/recapture study. Hosted by Vic Bogosian of Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, the kids had a great time holding and releasing marked turtles back into their wetland habitats. After helping with the turtle project, camp members took a trip to the banks of the Missouri River and visited McBaine, Missouri’s grand champion bur oak, which is 90 feet tall and estimated to be over 350 years old.

During the Club Kid Connect nature camp, inner city children visited natural areas close to where they live.  Hopefully, they connected with nature while having fun and will consider natural areas, like state parks, places they want to visit as they grow older.  The Nature Camp has become such a popular program that plans for 2014 are currently underway to involve more children who have had little exposure to nature. This program continues to make a significant contribution to the Service’s goal of getting kids outside.

By Paul McKenzie and Anna Clark

After touring Conner's Cave at Rock Bridge State Park, kids and staff take a break to enjoy the cool cave air before returning to summer heat and humidity/Courtesy of DNR Youth Corps Volunteer Darayle Jackson

After touring Conner's Cave at Rock Bridge State Park, kids and staff take a break to enjoy the cool cave air before returning to summer heat and humidity/Courtesy of DNR Youth Corps Volunteer Darayle Jackson

Paul McKenzie, USFWS biologist and Nature Camp instructor, uses a cartoon painting to quiz camp kids on wildlife they may see in the Park/USFWS.

Paul McKenzie, USFWS biologist and Nature Camp instructor, uses a cartoon painting to quiz camp kids on wildlife they may see in the Park/USFWS.

Last updated: April 10, 2014