KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The 10th annual trip by Kansas City’s Urban Rangers Corps to the Current River seemed in jeopardy. Hurricane Barry was sending heavy rain into the Current River basin and a heat wave hit central Missouri during the trip’s scheduled dates. But youths in the character-building program are hardy, and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) staff that hosted the trip improvised a new plan. The rangers camped at MDC’s Fiery Fork Conservation Area July 16-18 at the Little Niangua River.
On July 17, they paddled canoes on the Little Niangua River. But to escape the heat they enjoyed cooling splashes in the river, especially where spring water tumbled down a rocky bank at MDC’s Burnt Mill Conservation Area. The spring was on the opposite bank from the sandbar where MDC staff cooked lunch for the 28 Urban Rangers and their seven adult leaders. The Urban Ranger Corps provides life skills training and summer jobs oriented toward community service for inner-city youths in grades 7-12. High school students attend the annual float trip, which culminates the Urban Rangers’ summer activities.
“This float trip helps these young men find opportunities outside their regular neighborhood,” said Lynn Johnson, the Urban Rangers director of operations. “This is an opportunity for them to celebrate and have a good time. There is also an emphasis on teamwork and togetherness. Seventy percent of these guys have hardly been out of their own neighborhoods.”
But some of the Rangers are veterans. James Jackson was on his third Ranger float trip. He missed jumping into icy water at Cave Spring on the Current River as in years past, but he loved that his tent was pitched on grass instead of gravel at the Fiery Fork campground.
“I really enjoy the food and the company on this trip,” Jackson said. “The Current River is a little better, I like jumping out into the coldest water in Missouri. The best part here is sleeping on grass instead of gravel, I was sleeping good.”
The staff at MDC’s Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center in Kansas City help the Urban Ranger Corps organize and conduct the annual float and camping trip. Staff from other MDC sites also assist on trips. They help the youths with camping gear, learning how to fish, learning canoe skills, avoiding water hazards, and rescuing the occasional overturned canoe. The staff also set up a target archery range at camp, cooked meals for the campers, and answered questions about nature. When the Rangers asked for help with a summer program a decade ago, MDC Naturalist Pat Whalen suggested the three-day, two-night, float trip.
“If you’re going somewhere in summer in Missouri with young people, the most important ingredient is water,” said Whalen, who leads the trip. “We’re giving them a chance to get outdoors and experience nature.”
Cannen Hill has been in the ranger program seven years and this was his fourth float trip.
“I really enjoy the float trips, and the food is great,” Hill said. “This trip gives us a chance to bond. The Urban Rangers is really a good program. It teaches you how to be a man. It’s taught me to be more confident. It gives us life tools.”
The rangers begin preparing mentally and physically for the trip in early summer, said Ben Suber, Urban Rangers program director. When it’s time to pitch tents and paddle canoes, the boys are ready. Although for the first timers, venturing out into nature is new and somewhat scary.
“They see things they’ve never seen before, like a live snake and wild turkeys. Seeing things like that up close is exciting for these guys,” Suber said.
First-timer DaQuon Cheadle said it was his first time to go canoeing.
“It was really fun,” Cheadle said. “The only bad thing was rocks in my shoes. I’ll come back next year, if I can.”
For more information about MDC outdoor education programs, visit http://mdc.mo.gov.