The Conservation Department conducts summer camps for children in Jefferson City and Kansas City. These week-long, fun-filled day camps target kids who might not otherwise have much exposure to nature.
Camp Coyote is held in July and includes transportation to and from a nature center location. The sponsor, McDonalds restaurants, provides lunches for every camper. The camp gives children a chance to experience new activities in the outdoors.
The camp has been held in Jefferson City, and this year includes a camp in the Kansas City area. The Conservation Department identifies eligible campers by working with local school districts.
Education is something that doesn't have to begin in a classroom. The land that surrounds the Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City is a classroom in itself. Each day campers learn outdoor skills that increase their self-esteem and teach them to work with others.
On the first day of camp, our eager coyotes (students) use their imaginations to tour Missouri. Naturalists talk about major habitats, places where plants and animals live, throughout Missouri and introduce students to a live animal that would live in each habitat. Naturalist Kathy Cavender explains to students that their backyards could also be a habitat for animals. To investigate backyard habitats and wildlife, campers take to the field with cameras to photograph habitats and wildlife.
The nature center trails lead to prairies, ponds, glades and forested areas. Students excitedly take pictures of these habitats and sometimes the animals living in them. Their pictures are great learning tools, and the students understand that habitats are important to the survival of wildlife.
The camping coyotes spend day two in the field. First the campers visit Scattering Fork Ropes Course in Mexico, where they take part in a team building exercise. When Ryan, a 1995 coyote, was asked what he thought about the course and why, he said, "It was pretty cool and fun just walking on ropes."
Later in the day the Jefferson City coyotes visit the shooting range at the United Sportsmen's Club. Ralph Duren, hunter skills specialist, teaches the young coyotes how to properly handle a firearm. The children are given the opportunity to shoot pellet rifles and practice archery.
Another coyote, Eric, commented on his experience at camp. "Target shooting was fun. Shooting at the range showed us how to safely handle a target gun." Knowing these youths are future hunters of Missouri, it is important to educate them about firearm safety.
The Jefferson City campers spend part of day three at a nearby lake. With the assistance of volunteers, campers learn to fish. They enjoy the challenge of catching fish. Some campers are skeptical at first, but when it is time to move to the next event, it is difficult for them to relinquish their fishing rods.
Sarah was a first-time angler at Camp Coyote. She pronounced the event "lots of fun" and vowed to fish again.
Day three includes basic canoeing techniques taught by Conservation Department naturalists. The campers learn canoeing skills, such as paddling straight and turning. After returning to the nature center, campers learn to appreciate an often misunderstood reptile, the snake.
Day four is better than baseball. Coyotes have the opportunity to show off their canoeing skills on the Gasconade River. Past Coyote Camper Samantha said canoeing was her favorite activity at Camp Coyote. "I got to experience it for the first time and I learned lots of things," she said.
Though they have a good time, campers realize the river is a force to be reckoned with. Camper Sheron summed it all up. "The river deserves respect because it can be dangerous and you can drown."
Day five, the final day, is fun for all and sad for some because the end is near. Campers are introduced to a wetland friend, the otter. Retired Conservation Department filmmaker Glenn Chambers explains otter behavior and discusses how Missouri helped build their numbers up in our state.
Chambers and the playful otters definitely keep the attention of the campers this day. Ashlee loved the otters. "Otters are interesting; I never knew they were once endangered," she exclaimed.
Jan Syrigos, a naturalist at the Runge Nature Center, dazzles as wells as educates the campers with her nature songs. "Going, Going, Gone" is the title of one of her songs that explains how extinction is forever and we should try to help animals that are on the verge of becoming extinct in our state.
On the final day of camp, the campers and the leaders discuss what they remember most. For some campers, it is the leaders they meet; for others it is the float trip or the rifle range. The leaders enjoy the really hard work. They feel it is great to expose children to new outdoor skills.
The Conservation Department is looking forward to introducing Missouri's outdoors to new day campers. This program teaches outdoor skills to children who probably would never experience such activities. The Camp Coyote program is a tool that teaches the next generation why we should conserve our natural resources and how people can work together to accomplish that goal.
The Conservation Department offers Camp Coyote each summer for minority and disadvantaged youth. In the Jefferson City area information about Camp Coyote appears in "Habitat Happenings," the Runge Nature Center newsletter. A similar camp is being held in the Kansas City area for one week this summer for the Ad hoc Group Against Crime organization.
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