Explorer Camp at Bennett Spring


Ryne Emerick is co-teaching the Explorer Camp at Bennett Spring for the second year and partnering with the Missouri State Parks staff for some of the class's activities.

"The State Park has been a great partner. They help provide some of the programs, and we partner with them with a lot of the things we do – with special permits and the access to the facilities. It's a good partnership," Emerick said.

The class was a mix with mostly middle school kids and some high school kids.

Emerick, who is an LHS science teacher, also has a wildlife degree. Before he decided to teach, he was a park ranger with the Corps of Engineers.

"This is a real passion for sure having kids out in the outdoors experiencing everything. I really like that. It's nice to teach about cells and photosynthesis, but it's also nice to get out and do the wildlife stuff as well," Emerick said.

Edward Emerick, 8, was auditing the class and picking up some trout fishing secrets from his dad.

"It's nice to have him out and get to experience some of this stuff that hopefully we'd be doing anyway. He seems to enjoy it for sure," Emerick said.

One technique was to fish in the clearer water of the shallows near the bank where the fish could be spotted easily. After a few failed attempts at setting the hook, he had it mastered. Edward caught two trout in as many minutes using the shallow water technique.

"I think if you catch it right there, it's all about timing," Edward said.

The Explorer Camp includes a lot more than just fishing, which was enough to get the studentsexcited by a nibble or a fish on their hook.

On the morning of June 7, the morning activity was building a model bird's nest complete with clay eggs to be placed where the nest can be preyed upon by nest predators.

"We'll be able to go back and see what has preyed on the nest, various raccoons (for example), and there will be bite marks in the eggs. It will be a cool little thing for the kids to see," Emerick said.

Fishing fills out the remainder of the morning each day before the afternoon activity begins, which has included or will include hiking, building a model eagle's nest, a snake program by Justin Slye, another science teacher from LHS, trail work, fishing instruction from the Missouri Department of Conservation, chemical sampling of the stream, invertebrate sampling, kayaking at Ha Ha Tonka and a hike to the Natural Tunnel.

Emerick said the kids were welcome to keep the fish they caught to show what they have accomplished.

"The parents like to see that," Emerick said.

Hillary Stanley, Middle School science teacher and the class's co-teacher, created awards with a laser engraver on cedar chips for medals for various accomplishments.

She has seen the kids improve their fishing skills.

"The first day we did this, it seemed like half the kids were tangling their lines more than they were casting," Stanley said.

However, the one that knew how taught those who did not.

"That's the best when they can teach each other. We like them to cooperatively learn. Some of the kids have done a lot of fishing, and some have never held a rod and reel before. You can see the kids who get a lot of joy out of it," Stanley said.

The class was an opportunity for her to work on her line detangling and knot untying skills.

"If I wasn't good at it before, I 'm pretty good at it now," she said.

She said the Explorer Camp kids chose the class knowing what to expect, and it makes the class more enjoyable for her.

Emerick and Stanley are not the only ones to instruct their students.

"We also a lot of help from the State Park volunteers. Danny Goldsmith and Dan Slais are two that are really knowledgeable in their field," Emerick said.

Goldsmith is a retired teacher with fly tying knowledge.

Dan Slais, a former Park Ranger, was one of the volunteers who came out to help the students.

"I think the kids are having fun catching a few fish and learning a lot ... Just working with the kids is interesting to see what their thinking is and how they're doing stuff, and it's really fun to watch them nail one for the first or second time," Slais said.

Lindsey Prince, 16, started fly fishing three or four years when she took the Explorer Camp class for the first time.

"They taught me all the casting stuff, how to tie flies, all the basic fishing things," Prince said.

"I do enjoy it. It's probably one of my favorite outdoor activities ... I  like outdoor things. It's very fun ... This is a great learning experience," Prince said.

Her sister and three cousins also took the class, so it was a class and a small family outing for her.

Clayton Simmons was happy to take a class that included fishing. He hopes to be an angler for life even on a slow day after catching three fish last week.

And he knows what success demands for the fishing portion of Explorer Camp at Bennett Spring and just maybe in life.

"Part of fishing is you've got to be patient," Simmons said.