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Rural Missouri Magazine

Opening the Outdoors
Kids connect with nature, conservation and
traditional outdoor recreation at the Land Learning Foundation

by Jason Jenkins

Casey Self, left, a member of Buck Gardner Calls’ Pro Staff, coaches 8-year-old Caleb Calhoun of Brookfield on the basics of using a duck call during the Land Learning Founda-tion’s Youth Game Fair on Aug. 25. More than 30 conservation organiza-tions participated in the daylong event.

Thwack!

Dirt flies and startled kids gasp and step back. Charlie Callaway of the Missouri Trappers Association calmly stands and raises his hand, revealing that the smooth metal jaws of a leghold trap have indeed snapped shut around his fingers.

For most of the kids attending the Youth Game Fair at the Land Learning Foundation near Triplett, it’s the first time they’ve seen how a leghold trap operates. For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen a trap of any kind.

The dramatic finale to Charlie’s trapping demonstration provides a convincing teaching moment, however. While he can’t pull his fingers from the trap, they are not broken, nor are they bleeding. The demonstration challenges the kids’ perceptions of what trapping is and what role it plays in modern wildlife management. Many stay to ask Charlie more questions after the demonstration is over.

Since 2003, the Land Learning Foundation has worked to connect youth to the outdoors. Its goals include teaching kids about agriculture, wetlands, conservation and habitat restoration, and sharing the enjoyment of traditional outdoor recreational pursuits such as hunting, fishing and trapping.Through its programs, many of which are free, nearly 2,000 kids will experience the outdoors this year thanks to the foundation, which was the vision of two brothers, Bryce and Brad Evans of Marshall, both avid outdoorsmen.

Charlie Callaway, conservation director for the Missouri Trappers Association, identifies a river otter pelt.t

After watching the ranks of hunters and anglers decline, the Evans brothers wanted to find a way to increase access and opportunity for youth who otherwise wouldn’t have the means to enjoy the outdoors.

In 2005, they built a facility on the banks of Dean Lake, north of Triplett in Chariton County. A lodge and six cabins, served by Farmers’ Electric Cooperative, provide a venue for most of the foundation’s programming.

“Our biggest challenge is just getting kids here the first time,” says Marshall Murphy, the nonprofit foundation’s director. “First impressions are everything, and kids are no exception to that rule. If we get them here and they have a positive experience, they often are eager to come back.”

The group’s largest free event, the Youth Game Fair, drew nearly 750 kids in August. More than 100 volunteers and 30 conservation groups introduced kids to outdoor activities including trapping, archery, fishing, fly-tying, duck calling, knifemaking, black powder and trap shooting.

Archery was one of the more popular activities at the Youth Game Fair.

Smiles were contagious, as arrows hit targets, shots broke clay pigeons and casts from fly rods successfully found their mark.

“We try to reach kids who aren’t already exposed to hunting and fishing and give them a chance to try as many outdoor activities as we can muster,” Marshall says. “We combine the recreation with a conservation message.”

Kimberly Walker of Bevier says the game fair provided her sons with a fun-filled day of new experiences.

“They really enjoyed the knifemaking and shooting the shotguns,” she says. “If you’re going to keep these activities around, you’re going to have to teach them because a lot of parents just don’t have a background in the outdoors.”

During the rest of the year, the Land Learning Foundation offers more in-depth programming. Waterfowl management and wetland ecology are popular topics in Chariton County, which has a large number of wetlands.

The foundation also hosts camps for youth organizations, including 4-H, FFA and others, offering an outdoor curriculum to supplement each group’s programming.

“We want to teach kids how to think, not what to think, about conservation and hunting issues,” says Bryce. “We think asking questions is a good thing.”

The Missouri 4-H Shooting Sports program provided instructors for the rifle shooting at the Youth Game Fair.

Marshall adds that the foundation emphasizes learning to love nature through nurture, a philosophy that marries well with a recent partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri in a new mentoring program called “Pass It On.”

Once funded, the two-part program will include one-on-one and group mentoring of 700 at-risk youth. The Missouri Department of Economic Development, through its Youth Opportunities Program, approved more than $214,000 in tax credits for the foundation to fund the program.

“If you show kids attention, whatever environment they get that attention in they usually learn to love,” Marshall says. “We’ll bring kids and their mentors here for a monthly outdoor activity and try to get them out of their comfort zones. If you do that, they’ll look to each other for support and begin to bond.”

Young and old alike were drawn to a Ducks Unlimited display of Missouri waterfowl.

According to Georgalu Swoboda, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri, “Pass It On” represents a new arena for working with at-risk kids. “It’s good to see new organizations that have a new angle of working with kids and providing an outdoor experience,” she says. “We’re really looking forward to working with them.”

For the Evans family, Brad sums up how it feels to ensure that outdoor traditions are passed onto future generations.

“The pay is terrible, but the rewards are great.”

Visit www.landlearning.org to learn more about the Land Learning Foundation. To inquire about making a donation eligible for the foundation’s Youth Opportunities Program tax credits, contact Marshall Murphy or Marsha Leimkuehler at (660) 634-2240 or e-mail mmurphy@landlearning.org.

Rural Missouri magazine - November 2014
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