by Charity R. Bartley Howard
Does your child love animals? Does your child like science? Does your child enjoy being in nature? Then Bear River Ranch’s Cub Creek Science Camp nine miles north of Rolla, Missouri, is the perfect place.
Youth ages 7 to 17 are invited to this outdoor summer camp that is surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest in the Missouri Ozark Mountains, about halfway between St. Louis and Springfield. It’s genuinely unique—the only summer camp in the country that is an overnight residential animal camp.
“We have a big focus on animals, and even though we have so many other things that aren’t animal-related, I’d say 95 percent of our campers come to us because of the animal program,” said owner/director Lori Martin.
“We built a zoo for our campers. It is not open to the public. It is meant just so that our kids can go in the enclosures with the animals,” she emphasized. “You can walk up to a sloth and hand feed it a banana.” The zoo is licensed by the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Cub Creek is the home to more than 100 species and around 300 animals, including various parrots and lizards as well as a wallaby. Among the animals most popular with campers, Martin said, are the ring-tailed lemur as well as Jazz, the Canadian Lynx. She described Jazz as a “comical character” that loves to pop balloons.
“The sloth is pretty unusual,” Martin added, “because just no one has had a chance to get up close to a sloth, and these guys get up close. You can touch them and feed them.
"The African Crested Porcupine is popular because it looks like it has a punk rock hairdo. [See photo, above.] This guy loves to have his ears rubbed more than anything.” Campers will find everyday animals at the camp, too, such as puppies, goats, kittens, horses, rabbits and chickens.
More than the animals makes the camp different, Martin pointed out. “We really focus on curiosity-guided learning…letting the campers’ own curiosity direct their adventure at camp. Other camps have things…you go and you play basketball, you play soccer, you go fishing. We have such a wide variety and it is all based on if you are interested in something. Then the learning just comes naturally.”
More than 100 activities and classes to choose
Cub Creek provides sessions that last one week to six weeks. Campers can choose how they want to focus their time while camping, and they can enjoy other camp activities too. There is time to go for a swim or a hike as well as spending time with new friends and attending a marshmallow roast at the campfire.
Campers attend two activities a day. Some of the more than 100 choices include cooking, survival skills, crime science, crafts and growing green. These hands-on activity experiences last an hour every day for a week.
Classes such as rope making, magic, and giant bubbles each last for an hour and are considered one-time activities. Campers also choose two of these special classes and will sign up for the class the night before.
A complete list of the courses, classes, and evening activities can be found here on the camp’s website.
Adopt an animal, learn about being a veterinarian
Martin told Parent USA City, “The two activities that are most popular are the Adopt an Animal program and Jr. Vet. With Adopt an Animal, you can choose your favorite animal and you become responsible for caring for it. So a child who has always wanted a monkey can take care of a monkey and find out that monkeys really don’t make great pets. They are not meant for somebody’s house. But on the other hand, a child might find out that a pet hedgehog could make a good animal companion in their home.”
Jr. Vet is the only program of its kind in the country, designed to introduce campers to being a veterinarian. Martin said, “We have actually created a surgical room here that allows kids to sit in and watch surgeries. We work with a local vet and we work with the local animal shelter. So we bring dogs and cats from the shelter and have them spayed and neutered.”
Campers give shots to these animals and check for worms to prepare them for permanent adoption. Cub Creek found 36 animals homes last summer.
Bear River Ranch’s Cub Creek Science Camp fills up every year. “We have grown every year because we are such a unique program,” Martin said. There are sessions that fill up more slowly—the first week of the summer and the last week of the summer.
Cub Creek welcomes campers from all over including other countries. Staff members will even meet campers who are flying at the airport and transport them to the camp.
The camp is accredited by the American Camping Association. And although the setting is tucked into the woods, there are plenty of comforts, such as air-conditioned cabins with private bathrooms. Everything at the camp is fully wheelchair accessible. As well as the many habitats for animals, the camp features a pottery studio, archery range, swimming pool, fossil quarry, and more.
So if you are parenting children who love animals, visit BearRiverRanch.com for more information and to register using the online form. Dates and prices are also located on the website.
Charity R. Bartley Howard lives in Central Indiana with her husband and two young sons. With degrees in journalism and English, she began her career in newspapers where she was a lifestyles editor. Her experience includes a wide variety from writing press releases to book reviews and editing articles and manuscripts.
Photos courtesy of Cub Creek Science Camp