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Science and the Environment
Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

Residential Summer Camp Educates Future Environmentalists

High School juniors and seniors are wrapping up a week at a camp southeast of Branson where they're learning about many different aspects of the natural world.  KSMU's Michele Skalicky visited the camp, and has the story.

Temperatures soared into the middle 90s this week, but that didn’t stop young people attending an environmental camp near Kirbyville from working hard in the late morning sun.

The 16 participants of the Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE) planted river cane that had been harvested from a nearby site—they covered the roots with dirt, clipped the tops of the plants and gave them a good watering.

The camp is a project of the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society, Missouri State University and the Missouri Department of Conservation with several other sponsors helping out.

The kids’ days are full.  Each one has a theme—this particular day was habitat restoration.  There were 85 holes in a field that would be filled with cane by the end of the day.

"Traditionally most of Bee Creek, the White River, the flat bottoms around the river were full of these cane breaks, cane thickets for lack of a better term, and then as settlers moved in this was the nice, fertile farming  ground, and so the habitat's been lost, so we're hoping that by restoring the habitat we can kind of do a Field of Dreams approach and that 'if you build it they will come,'" he said.

Andrew Kinslow is a co-coordinator of GLADE.   He says, by planting river cane, the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society hopes to bring back the threatened Swainson’s Warbler.  And efforts may be working--a team of researchers from the University of Missouri thought they heard one about three years ago, but that couldn’t be confirmed.   GLADE participants have been working to restore habitat in the area since the camp started nine years ago.

But Tammy Trantham, the other coordinator of GLADE, says the kids are learning about other benefits of planting the cane.

"It's also a barrier to help prevent soil erosion into Bee Creek, which is a direct conduit into Bull Shoals Lake," she said.

GLADE participants are chosen after submitting an application and essay.  At the camp, they’re exposed to a variety of topics and experts in the field.  According to Kinslow, the previous night included an hour and a half roundtable on herpetology.

"The just have an opportunity to really experience ecology not inside four walls and a ceiling, but actually out in the environment," he said.

One participant this year is 17-year-old Jenna Dobyns, soon to be a senior at Central High School.  She likes the variety of what they’re learning.

"There's an academic side of it--we're learning a lot about ecosystems and, you know, what goes into healthy soil and about lichens and stuff like that and then also there's sort of a leadership and community aspect to it," she said.

And they’re learning to advocate for the environment, she says.  Dobyns is interested in using her art to bring about awareness of the environment.

"I'm really interested in birds and bird photography and learning how to advocate for the birds and help restore their environment and their habitat so that there will be birds, you know, for future generations to enjoy and appreciate like I do," she said.

Full disclosure:  my daughter, Anna Skalicky, is a participant at GLADE this year.  She says the camp has made her more aware of the environment and how what we do affects it.  She pointed to two ponds the group had explored just off the highway.

"You don't notice them if you're just driving by, but once you just walk a few steps into the woods, they're right there just covered in duck weed, and just the minute you scoop a net in you scoop up bugs and salamanders and newts and frogs and sometimes even turtles and snakes and so there's this whole fragile ecosystem just even under our footsteps that's so delicate.  And there's such a balance that you become more aware of," she said.

Branden Powell is 15-years-old and soon to be a junior at Dadeville.  He decided to apply because he felt like he’d be around people who shared his interests.

His future goal is to work in herpetology, zoology or biology.

"I want to work mostly with endangered species--tracking and studying endangered species," he said.

He says he’s learned a lot so far.

Ethan Boyer, a 17-year-old incoming senior from Rogersville, came to GLADE because he says nature is his passion.

"I feel like nature is something that's very important and not something that I know everything about, and you get an opportunity to learn everything you need to know," he said.

He’s learning towards studying microbiology or ornithology and hopes GLADE will get him closer toward his goal.

"It's more knowledge for me to take and make the world a better place," he said.

Past GLADE participants have gone on to work in the environmental field or are studying to do so, according to Greg Swick who was instrumental in getting the camp started.  A few examples:  

Benjamin Maples, GLADE Class of 2012, is studying Entomology at UC-Davis, Swick said.  A professor took Maples under his wing, according to Swick, and he's doing research in the agricultural areas near Davis, CA, and in Malaysia.

Emily Samuel, GLADE Class of 2013, is a student at Kansas State University majoring in Wildlife Biology.  As a freshman, she was involved with research on grassland bird species, including Harris' Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrow, he said.  She is currently working at Lake of the Ozarks State Park between her freshman and sophomore years at KSU.

Sarah Bakker, Class of 2009, recently completed a tour with the Peace Corps in Gambia.  She received her degree from Truman State in Sustainability Studies.

Zach Morris, Class of 2009, has a degree in Fisheries Management form MSU and currently works for the Missouri Department of Conservation.  

Stuart Jump, Class of 2010 recently graduated from College of the Ozarks with a Conservation degree and is working with MDC this summer,Swick said.  He returned to GLADE this summer to help with the cane restoration.

Baillie Shebesta, Class of 2011, received a full ride scholarship to Missouri State as the recipient of The Christine A. Loetel Scholarship for Students with Cerebral Palsy, Swick said.  She received her degree in Wildlife Biology at MSU and is currently serving as an intern at the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis.

Kelsey Rumley, GLADE Class of 2010, and a 2015 MSU graduate,  was the 2013 Conservation Federation of Missouri Youth Conservationist of the Year.

Ethan Greene, a junior at MSU, was the 2014 Conservation Federation of Missouri Youth Conservationist of the Year and is currently working as a Certified Interpreter with Missouri State Parks.  

Brooke Widmar was the 2015 Conservation Federation of Missouri Youth Conservation of the Year, and is currently entering her sophomore year at Missouri State.  She is already the Assistant Director of the Missouri Stream Team Coalition and recently traveled to Washington, DC to discuss GLADE with the National Audubon Society Board of Directors, according to Swick.

The impact of this year's camp could soon be felt on communities the participants came from.  GLADE participants are encouraged to apply for grants of up to $500, administered through the Community Foundation of the Ozarks to do a community action project.  And kids are taught how to tag team with other organizations to turn their seed money into larger grants to bring environmental awareness to their communities.  

Swick said, GLADE Alumni Community Conservation projects throughout the Ozarks have leveraged approximately $8,000 into projects valuing in excess of $20,000.