COLUMBIA — Each year musicians, artists and environmental conservationists gather at EcoArtFest at Cooper's Landing to celebrate their connection to the Missouri river and its culture. This weekend individuals shared their own stories about the historical richness of Missouri's landscapes.
The river is one of many settings that creates an emotional connection, said state poet laureate Walter Bargen, who read several poems at the event.
"You walk out here and you begin to think differently," Bargen said. "Suddenly the horizon is so much broader - so much more can fit in, and you are so much smaller."
Following Saturday's performances by Bargen and Naked Dave and the Crazy Fish, musical acts Lee Ruth and Swampweed will play Sunday night. The Missouri River Cultural Conservancy documented this weekend's musical stories, compiling the video in a DVD to preserve the experience.
Among the many activities at the festival were face painting, portrait sketching and tie-dyeing. Local photographer Liz Mitchell said she found the festival a relaxing escape full of moments similar to those she captures in her photographs. One of her photographs showed two men building a fire while silhouetted against the Missouri River at Cooper's Landing.
"This is really a moment in time, but it's still part of a story," Mitchell said. "This happens to be the middle of a gathering for a really great sunset."
Bargen said nature is full of beautiful moments that often go unrecognized. As the state poet laureate, he said it is part of his role to bring people back to personal expression.
"It's easy to lose sight of some of the originality and some of the uniqueness of where you live," he said. "This is an attempt to help people rediscover some of the interesting things around them."
Missouri River Relief, one of the environmental exhibitors, captured a different story about Missouri's rivers. Toilets, car tires, plastic bottles and houses worth of carpet were some of the items the organization found in the river in 2006. Dyan Pursell, who has volunteered with the organization since 2002, said she hopes her goodwill for the river will pass on to younger people unaware of the river's poor conditions.
"To me it tells of generations of societal disconnect from nature," she said. "It's nothing new. We find trash dumps that are literally decades and decades old."
Preserving natural resources was a common goal not only for Pursell, but also for other festival participants. Items for sale included painted rainwater barrels and recycled grocery tote bags.
Pursell said the river tells a story of a natural resource in need of preservation, and she said she hopes the future will tell a promising story of a cleaner environment.
"My dream would be to hop in a boat, ride up and down the river just as far as I wanted to go and never see a plastic bottle," she said.
Whether it stems from the Missouri River valley or someone's personal experience, Bargen said a story told in the narrative style will draw people.
"That's what people are interested in; that's what they want to hear," Bargen said. "All of us are storytellers, and we can't divest ourselves of stories because that seems to be the way in which we communicate."