Columbia plugs into nature

Thursday, April 17, 2008 | 5:22 p.m. CDT; updated 5:28 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — Jeff Finley, a local biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is trying to get people to reconnect with nature. He is one of the people involved in planning to bring an outdoor education program to Columbia.

“Fewer and fewer children are connecting with the outdoors,” Finley said.

On May 2 to 3, adults and children can explore the outdoors with local wildlife experts in activities such as catfishing and camping.

Organizers are hosting the program, called the Wonders of Wildlife, at the Twin Lakes Recreation Area at Chapel Hill Road and Katfish Katy’s along the Missouri River.

At Twin Lakes, beginning students will learn the basics of fishing, camping and nature photography.

At Katfish Katy’s, advanced students will have an opportunity to go catfishing, wild turkey hunting, and mushroom hunting, as well as boating on the river and learning about stream ecology.

Finley said the idea of bringing the program to Columbia was partly inspired by two things: his love for the river and the enthusiasm of young biologists in his office, eager to share their knowledge of the outdoors.

“I really like to promote the river as a recreational opportunity,” Finley said. “Since I work on the Missouri River, I’m very attached to it. I think people are scared of it because they don’t know a lot about it. They only know what they hear on the news, but it’s a wonderful place to be.”

Registration for the program is $45 per person or $60 per family of four. Registration forms are available online and can be mailed in until the beginning of May. More information on registration and classes is available on the Web site,

The program began in Springfield in 1997 at Drury University and has moved out to St. Louis, Kansas City, Roaring River State Park and now Columbia.

Misty Mitchell, director of conservation programs for the Wonders of Wildlife, said the program is a great way to get children away from their televisions and video games and to “unplug them from the world.”

“The school is geared toward families,” she said. “It’s about families getting time together to enjoy each other and enjoy fellowship.”

“The Columbia, Missouri, area has so much to offer like the MKT and Katy trails, that people don’t really know about, that are right there in your backyard,” Mitchell said.

Ashley Spratt of the Fish and Wildlife Service said that the idea of connecting people with nature is one that has developed over the years. “The whole purpose of the Wonders of Wildlife schools is to expand them throughout Missouri,” she said. “We have a more urban community so we cater to more urban groups.”

Spratt said the Missouri Ecological Field Office of the Fish and Wildlife service will offer 12 scholarships to children through the City of Columbia Parks and Recreation youth programs.

“We’re just one city, but if we can give 12 scholarships to kids that never would have fished before, then we are doing our job,” Spratt said.

Spratt said she hopes the program will teach participants about following safety steps and get more people invested in environmental issues.

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