Fourth graders tour elk habitat at Peck Ranch Conservation Area

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CARTER COUNTY, Mo. -- Fourth graders from several Missouri Ozarks schools toured Peck Ranch Conservation Area (CA) on Oct. 8 and 9 with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). Funded by a generous grant from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), the students learned what makes quality wildlife habitat and they completed their own nature journals as they explored.

Fourth graders from Winona R-III Elementary, Eminence R-1 Elementary, Van Buren R-I Elementary and Southern Reynolds County R-II Elementary attended the event. Teachers Tina Haynes and Dessie Bird took the tour with their students from Winona R-III Elementary.

“The hands on approach like this is better by far for learning,” Haynes said. “In science, we are studying habitats and Missouri landforms so this tour fit right in with what we were doing in school. The kids are actually seeing what we talked about in class.”

MDC education and wildlife specialists spent time visiting with the students about the elk herd and the rich conservation history in the Ozarks and at Peck Ranch CA. Each class was led by Conservation Department employees on a one-hour bus tour where they explored glade, woodland and forest habitats.

“Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who visited the Missouri Ozarks in the early 1800’s, described glades, woodlands and forests in his journals,” said AJ Hendershott, an outreach and education regional supervisor with the MDC. “Schoolcraft also described seeing an elk just north of the Peck Ranch area in Dent County.”

The students worked on their own journal writing about the habitat and their observations throughout the tour as they considered what they saw versus what Schoolcraft wrote about in his journals, Hendershott said.

The journaling activity is part of the Discover Nature Schools (DNS) program that the students participate in. Journal activities complement the fourth grade DNS unit, which encourages investigation and observation, according to MDC Conservation Education Consultant Stephanie McKinney.

“Last year, this same group of students worked through Discover Nature Schools curriculum, where they were introduced to the concept of habitats,” McKinney said. “Now they get to see what they learned right in front of them here at Peck Ranch.”

Skyler Bockman, an MDC naturalist, spoke to students from Eminence R-I Elementary about habitat and the writings of Schoolcraft.

“Henry Rowe Schoolcraft came through this area in 1818,” Bockman said. “He wasn’t the first person to travel through here, but he was the first person to give us details on what he saw.”

Bockman then instructed the students to do “what Schoolcraft did” by taking their own journal notes as they explored Peck Ranch. Each student was given a journal and pencil to record observations, which they then compared with those of Schoolcraft.

While exploring a glade habitat, Bockman asked the students if there were similarities between what they wrote and what Schoolcraft wrote.

“You are looking at the same type of habitat,” Bockman told the students.

One curious fourth grader from Winona asked why the wild elk tend to stay on the conservation area and the answer came from his classmate, Blaine Cooper.

“Elk don’t know the boundaries on Peck Ranch, but everything they need is just here,” Cooper said.

Fourth grader Max Smith chimed in and added, “They have perfectly good food planted for them at Peck…that’s why they stay.”

The tour ended at the MDC’s elk pen facility that was used to hold the relocated elk during the prescribed holding period before they were released on the area.

MDC Wildlife Management Biologist Preston Mabry and Elk Program Coordinator Dave Hasenbeck took the children through the pen facility and detailed the process of unloading the elk, placing radio collars on the elk and explained health monitoring activities that took place before the elk were released. Mabry and Hasenbeck led the students through a series of chutes as if they were the elk arriving at the new habitat location.

Winona fourth grader Max Smith said he felt “like a rat in a maze” while going through the elk pen. This was due to the series of stations where elk entered the facility, were sorted by gender then received health testing and radio collars.

Autumn Simmerock, of Eminence R-I Elementary said she hopes to return to the Conservation Area with her family.

“I really want to see elk,” she said.

When asked about what he thought about elk returning to the Ozarks, Winona student Tanner Kalman, gave a succinct answer.

“This is what is cool to me about Peck Ranch,” Kalman said. “They [elk] used to be here and now we got them back again.”

More information about elk in Missouri, elk habitat and the Discover Nature Schools program can be found at