Tina Nguyen was focused on her watercolor painting of the Missouri River at Cooper’s Landing on Tuesday, distracted only by a stray dog nearby.
“I spent a lot more time on the trees than on the water,” Tina, 10, told one of the adults watching her.
She is one of approximately 40 campers ages 9 to 13 attending Missouri River Relief’s first Missouri River Adventure Camp.
The nonprofit has hosted an overnight camp in New Haven before, but this is the first time for a day camp, said Kristen Schulte, director of education for Missouri River Relief.
The camp received a good review from Tina, who will be in fifth grade when school starts.
“I think it’s pretty awesome,” she said. “We are going to explore. We are learning a lot.”
The campers were doing the watercolors while waiting for the rain to calm down enough to go out on the river in two boats.
“I want to feel the wind on my face as we go fast on the water,” Tina said.
“The Missouri River is the longest river in North America,” Schulte told campers. At 2,341 miles long, it’s about 20 miles longer than the Mississippi River, she said.
Other campers also weighed in on the experience.
Lucas Combs, 12, an uphill seventh-grader, said he didn’t mind the rain.
“We do a lot of river cleanups” with Missouri River Relief, he said of his experience on the river with his parents.
Asa Smith, 11, said her mother worked on the river.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said of camp.
Abigail Cannon, 9, of Jefferson City, said she wanted to attend camp because she thought it would be fun.
“My dad and I do a lot of outdoor activities,” she said. “I have my own kayak.”
One group of campers went on boats while another group cycled in the morning, changing after lunch.
“I really want to ride my bike today,” Abigail said.
When the rain finally subsided, campers aboard the boats received safety briefings and donned life jackets. They boarded the 28-foot Lucia and the 24-foot Anna Deka.
On the water, the two boats stopped and were roped together. AmeriCorps employee Anna Miller passed around magnifying glasses and objects that looked like rocks. After examining the objects, Miller asked the campers to guess what they were.
These were fossilized teeth of animals that lived in the Missouri River basin, including a mastodon tooth, an American camel tooth, a bison tooth, and a horse tooth.
Some, like the mastodon and the American camel, have disappeared, she said.
“What does it mean when an animal goes missing?” Miller asked.
“They’re all gone,” shouted a response.
She was talking then about endangered animals, like the pale sturgeon.
The sturgeon has plates, not scales, and can grow to around 80 pounds and 6 feet long, she said.
“They’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years,” Miller said.
They are under threat because of changes humans have made to the river, she said. The Missouri River was once about three miles wide and shallow. Now it’s much narrower, deeper and faster.
“It’s so different from what pale sturgeons are used to,” Miller said.
The boats then traveled a distance to Perche Creek, bringing the water up as the invasive silver carp jumped behind the boats.
Lucia’s captain, Kevin Tosie, said the fish could jump into the boats, but they probably wouldn’t. None did.
“I’m trying to get you all fish, so you can eat their faces,” Tosie joked.
Amelia Harding, 11, said she counted 19 of the invasive fish jumping on the boat ride.
She commented on a piece of the bank that was in the river.
“I think it’s too wet, so it just slipped,” she said.
Camp is a fun time, she says.
“I think it’s great,” Amelia said. “I’m just enjoying nature.”
On Wednesday, campers will meet at the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, with fishing being one of the planned activities. They were at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park on Monday. On Thursday, campers will do a Flat Branch Creek litter cleanup and audit. Friday will include activities to find ways to connect others to the Missouri River.
Roger McKinney is the Tribune’s educational reporter. You can reach him at [email protected] or 573-815-1719. He’s on Twitter at @rmckinney9.