A fun camp for all things science
by Heather Berry
The past 31 years have been quite an adventure for Lori and Scott Martin. When they step out the front door each day, they’ve arrived at their workplace where more than 300 critters — including mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects and some staff — call home.
“When Scott and I married in 1988 I made him promise he would never tell me ‘no’ to an animal as long as I could take good care of them,” says Lori. “I think it’s worked out well.”
That was the beginning of what is now Cub Creek Science Camp, a summer camp where youth can learn about the environment and animal care, build their self-confidence, acquire problem-solving skills and have a great deal of fun.
A respite program manager by trade, Lori says the original program began as an overnight camp in 1993 at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park where she had only 10 campers.
“All of this really started as a way to share my love of nature with children during my summer vacation time, but it quickly grew into a year-round operation,” recalls Lori.
In 1999, Lori and Scott located an abandoned Camp Fire Girls property for sale which they felt would meet the needs as a home for their two daughters and a future camp. They purchased Bear River Ranch and moved to the property just outside Rolla. They spent every possible minute updating the 15 cabins which would become summer homes to campers, as well as creating camp housing for staff they would hire. In 2001, the property officially became home for Cub Creek Science Camp gatherings, now held early June to mid-August.
Not many places can say they’re an animal, science, adventure, veterinary and nature camp while still offering traditional summer camp activities such as swimming, hiking and arts and crafts. The camp also offers outdoor activities such as ziplining, fishing, archery, ropes courses, spelunking and much more.
Another thing the camp does is help kids unplug from the internet and let loose of their phones. To keep kids in touch with home, the camp has a system set up called BunkNotes, where they can communicate back and forth with their family through an email system.
“We probably print off 500 emails a day for campers,” Lori says, adding the messages are electronically sorted by cabin and delivered to cabin mailboxes every day. “It’s a huge improvement from the days of mail call to receive a letter from home.”
Children from almost every state as well as 10 countries have come to rural Missouri to experience Cub Creek Science Camp.
“It’s amazing to see kids wanting to learn and having fun while they’re doing it,” says Lori, a member of Gascosage Electric Cooperative. “It’s like staying at a licensed zoo with more things than you can possibly do during a one-week stay. We want to offer activities that encourage and build curiosity-guided learning. We’re not your traditional summer camp.”
Campers select two courses and a variety of options for their weeklong experience. If a camper is interested in veterinary science, they might add geology class and then have an afternoon to enjoy something unrelated, such as the riflery course or pottery class.
For the early birds attending camp, days can begin as early as 7 a.m. with unique activities such as a morning walk to the glade. Night owls might choose to end the day at a glow stick dance party. Another favorite activity is the camp’s Circle of Life evening. Teen leaders bring animals to each cabin and make presentations for campers, allowing each child to hold the animal if they want and have a photo taken. And those campers staying on-site around the Fourth of July enjoy a carnival or Floop-a-Flar, a funny water relay race.
These days, what used to be 10 children at camp during Lori’s three weeks of vacation held in a state park setting has now grown to more than 1,500 campers over 10 weeklong camp opportunities. Camps are divided into two segments: junior for ages 7 to 11 and a senior for ages 12 to 17. A week at Cub Creek Science Camp currently runs $1,190 no matter the age of the child and covers costs associated with a weeklong experience (minus the things which can be purchased in the camp store).
“We have science labs where kids can learn to shoot rockets as well as chemistry segments where they create crazy concoctions,” Lori says. “But animal science and the junior vet program are two of the most popular courses kids choose. One of the best ways to describe camp is that it’s like sending kids to a university: they can all major in different things and still have unique educational experiences. Someone might like outdoor survival skills and archery while someone else likes arts and crafts. Or a child may only want to learn more about animals. Or they can do a little of everything. We call it curiosity learning and challenge by choice. We don’t force them to do anything, but we do hope campers will step outside their comfort zones in order to grow.”Campers also may choose to adopt an animal as part of their stay. They not only learn all about the animal but are tasked with helping staff feed and care for the animal for the week.
Some of the camp critters include alpacas, wallabies, Patagonian cavies, lemurs, sloths, bearded dragons, snakes, parrots and more. For youth considering a career as a veterinarian there is a Junior Veterinarian course. According to Lori, many campers have told them their time with animals at camp is often part of the reason they go into veterinary studies in college.
If a camper shows an interest in leadership, Cub Creek offers a weeklong course called Leaders In Training (LIT) for attendees ages 13 to 17. LITs work together with camp leadership to plan activities for other campers while also performing a camp service project.
The camp also offers a program called Animal Specialist In Training (ASIT.) ASITs help the animal tech team each morning as they take care of the 300 animals on property. They are also expected to lead by example, helping a cabin of campers have their best camp learning experience. According to Lori, the program is only for returning campers ages 15 and older and is offered to a camper by invitation.
“I’m often asked what my favorite part of camp is. Most people assume the animals. While they certainly are a plus, it’s the people that make Cub Creek my favorite place,” writes Dani Imrie, a nine-year returning camper, ASIT and camp staffer. “It’s the most special place with the most special people. They are people who believe in you and inspire you, who understand your heart and encourage you to follow your dreams.”
In addition to an incredible science camp for kids, Scott and Lori offer a family experience on the island of Jamaica. What began as a teen adventure program is now a chance for a unique tropical family adventure. Families can rent one of two properties, which also includes a van with a driver for the entire stay. Guests can spend a week or more snorkeling, kayaking, visiting fruit markets and local shops, climbing waterfalls and more. Proceeds from this Jamaica program go to support a Christian charity called the Bus Stop Mission, started by the Martins nearly 10 years ago.
“Our goal is for all of the camps to help youth strengthen their problem-solving skills, help them gain self-confidence and build great memories that will last a lifetime,” says Lori.
To find out more about Cub Creek Science Camp, go to cubcreeksciencecamp.com, call 573-458-2125 and follow them on social media. Campers age 7 to 17 can opt for single or multiple weeks at camp from early June through mid-August each year. Cub Creek Science Camp is located at Bear River Ranch, 16795 State Route E near Rolla. Camps fill up quickly so be sure to make arrangements early. For more information about Bus Stop Mission charity, call Lori Martin 573-578-7129.