After years of working in their family’s various construction companies, it was time for Charlotte Smarr and her daughters, Riley Smarr and Morgan Smarr...
It all started when my husband took this city girl out of her comfort zone and into the woods for a weekend of camping. My experience with nature that weekend — hiking trails, seeing a family of deer, and hearing many new sounds at night — quickly turned into a desire to be outdoors and do my part to conserve our beautiful state. From there, I went back to MU to take classes and get more experience with fisheries, wildlife, and natural resources. I also joined the Missouri Department of Conservation’s protection volunteer program and served as a volunteer for almost three years, helping teach hunter education and archery classes, shadowing conservation agents, and assisting with conservation education programs. In January 2015, I became a full-time employee with MDC working as a conservation education consultant.
The biggest part of my job is the Discover Nature Schools program. Through this program, MDC offers hands-on, conservation-focused curriculum units for preschool through 12th grade classrooms. The curriculum materials are aligned with Missouri state learning standards, and educators in Missouri can get teacher’s guides, student books, and science notebooks for no cost! There are also opportunities for eligible schools to get grant funding for classroom supplies and field trips. The program and curriculum units are designed to get students outside, enrich their learning with outdoor experiences, and increase their knowledge of Missouri’s plants, animals, and natural systems. The Discover Nature Schools program benefits students in many ways, and it’s my responsibility to provide materials to educators in Missouri so they can, in turn, provide enriched learning opportunities to their students.
I help Missourians get outdoors and discover nature. So often, people don’t know where to start when it comes to exploring a new area or learning a new outdoor skill. Part of my job is to teach people about conservation and natural resources in Missouri, and to help them be comfortable when taking on new experiences in the outdoors. I solve the problem of helping people get past certain barriers to going outside so they are able to enjoy Missouri’s great outdoors.
By far, the best part of my job is helping children discover nature. I get to participate in field trips, classroom presentations, outdoor skills teaching, and other nature-related events. These allow me to educate kids about Missouri’s diverse natural systems and help them experience something they may have never seen or done. Seeing a child light up and get excited when they have a positive experience in the outdoors is so rewarding. There are always new, wonderful things to discover in nature, so being able to help kids get outside and learn makes this job truly enjoyable.
Learning to get over some of my own fears about the outdoors and wildlife so that I’m able help the next generation avoid some of the same misconceptions I’ve had. Snakes have been a big challenge for me. I grew up being wildly afraid of snakes, seeing them as scary, dangerous creatures. After working in conservation and learning more about the importance of snakes in ecosystems, I have really gained a new perspective and appreciation for these animals. I’ve learned that non-venomous snakes are quite harmless and are much more scared of us than we are of them. (But the venomous ones are definitely to be avoided!) Like any other wild animal, if we give them space and aren’t threatening, we can enjoy them without bringing harm to the animals or ourselves.
Learning in nature and being connected with the outdoors benefits students in several ways. Improved problem solving and higher-order thinking skills, improved scores on standardized tests, and reduced attention-deficit problems are just a few examples. Having a connection to nature teaches children to have an appreciation and respect for the natural world, and it inspires them to be stewards of conservation who can help protect the environment and Missouri’s natural resources.
Encourage your children to spend time playing outdoors, take nature walks at a conservation area or park, share nature-related skills you already have (hunting, fishing, canoeing, and camping, for example), or take time to learn new skills together as a family. There are so many ways you can easily enjoy nature with your children and build strong family relationships while encouraging your children to be connected with the outdoors.
Hunter education courses; Discover Nature Fishing classes; public programs, such as shooting clinics and outdoor cooking; and numerous nature center events. We offer a wide variety of programs for all ages. Visit mo.gov/events to learn more about upcoming opportunities.
Boone County is rich with conservation areas and recreational opportunities for mid-Missourians. Some popular conservation areas to visit are Eagle Bluffs, Three Creeks, and Rocky Fork Lakes. Eagle Bluffs is a great place to see numerous species of resident and migrating birds and waterfowl; Three Creeks offers hiking, camping, and hunting; and at Rocky Fork Lakes, you can catch a few fish or practice your shooting skills at the shotgun or rifle and pistol ranges. There are also plenty of opportunities to get in a float in Boone County, like canoeing at Twin Lakes or boating on the Missouri river.
The Discover Nature Schools program is available to educators anywhere in Missouri. I’m responsible for conservation education in seven counties in central Missouri: Boone, Howard, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Moniteau, and Osage. There are 18 other conservation education consultants spread throughout the state, which allows us to better serve Missourians no matter where they reside. You can find your local MDC contacts by visiting our website and entering the county you live in.
A big goal of mine is to continue promoting the importance of conservation education. No matter your age, there is always more to learn, and you can garner a new appreciation for wildlife and the great outdoors. In order to protect the wonderful natural resources that we’re fortunate to have in Missouri, we need to ensure that Missourians are educated about our resources and the ways we can experience them and conserve them for future generations. I hope to play a meaningful role in the future of conservation education in Missouri.