small, inaccessible pond surrounded by thick woods. A small sign reads "The Marion and Virgil Culler Oxbow Lake and Nature Trail."
"The land is privately owned, but some time ago, the owners decided it was important to let school groups use the area for field trips," says Mitch Kruger of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Virgil Culler's ancestors were one of a handful of pioneering families who arrived on the banks of the North River in what is now Shelby County and founded their own commune in 1848. The settlers named their new town Bethel and built a tannery, general store, tailor shop, school and, on the banks of the river, a mill. The communal arrangements of property and labor long ago disbanded, but there is still a strong sense of community sharing within this small town, population 117. Bethel's motto was "many hands make quick work."
"It's been in my wife's family for years and years, and it gives the school kids a place to go," says Virgil Culler of his Oxbow Lake. "I don't charge them anything. My wife and I just wanted to have it for them to visit. They come by the bus load sometimes."
Once or twice a year, students from North Shelby take a field trip to the oxbow. Staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Conservation Department, MU Extension and teachers set up along the trail and banks of the oxbow and kids move from station to station, learning about the area's aquatic and animal life. Craig King, Soil Technician with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has organized the event and staffed the stations.
"Snakes, furs, teaching them about poison ivy. We try to teach a little bit of everything," he says. "Someone brings a collection of pelts for the kids to see and feel - something they can experience up close. Our soil scientist sends them home with test tubes of samples they collect. The oxbow is a really good setting for the kids, and we try to have a lot going on to make it fun for them." Last year, King says, about 125 students made the field trip.
Visits to the Oxbow by school kids ebb and flow. Compared to a nature center or publicly developed area, it is low-key and understated. But it anchors the south side of a small Missouri town, reflects the generosity of neighbors and is always there for school kids and