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Columbia Missourian

BOONE LIFE: Missouri 'River Rat' hopes to enjoy life by the river

By Shengze Zhu
December 3, 2011 | 3:20 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — On a Saturday afternoon before Halloween, Mike Cooper, the owner of Cooper’s Landing, sat on the steps of a convenience store and looked out at the crowd.


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He was wearing a "geezer mask." Lily, an 8-year-old dog, sat beside him and looked over at him every 10 seconds or so.

"I just thought it was funny, because lots of people would call me a geezer anyway because of my age and my attitude, which is having fun and being very old," Cooper said.

After spending more than 30 years living in a mobile home located near the bank of the Missouri River, Cooper and his friends named themselves "the River Rats," a term popularized by a 1984 film about people living along the Mississippi River.

"It's kind of living on the edge, like an adventure," he said. "You never know who is the next person that is going to come down the river and show up."

A typical day for Cooper usually starts at 7 a.m. — he prepares coffee on weekdays and cooks bacon and pancakes on the weekends. Cooper said he likes to enjoy his mornings and get work done when there aren't as many people around.

Later in the day, he walks around Cooper's Landing, a campground, port and multi-purpose gathering place along the Missouri River, taking care of customers and doing maintenance work.

Cooper said he has hundreds of different types of tools and parts stored in his house "because you are constantly repairing different things, so you have to be ready." Cooper and his friends built the site's electrical, heating and water-supply systems themselves.

At other times, Cooper sits in front of two 21-inch computer screens and edits videos, which he shoots during concerts held at Cooper's Landing. In the 1990s, Cooper started the Missouri River Cultural Conservancy to raise awareness about local musicians.

"Yep, I don't have much personal life," he said. "My whole life revolves around Cooper's Landing."

Because he is there from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Cooper, 62, said he tries to get away from the crowd once in awhile. He is planning to retire in the next couple years.

"I am looking for a transition, trying to find the right people to buy Cooper's Landing," he said. "Then I am able to find more time for myself and do fishing and boating."

Cooper said he wants to continue living in Cooper's Landing. "I love living here. I just would like to have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of living here without all the obligations that take my time.

"Cooper's Landing is my lifetime work. To me, it means that I accomplished something that is valuable to the community."