The Big Muddy Speaker Series began when a few river lovers got together to plan a tree planting on the Overton Bottoms Unit of the Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge. They met at the J.C. Bryant Cabin to begin their hike down to the planting site in the bottoms. Overlooking the refuge from the cabin’s deck, they decided it would be a really fantastic idea to hold a series of Missouri River talks on this beautiful bluff, in the duck club cabin that the Big Muddy Refuge had just acquired.

The first cabin gatherings were called “Big Muddy Sessions”. They were potlucks, with people sitting in rows of chairs in the small living room and sometimes in the balcony above. Some friends ran a romper room for the kids so their parents could sit down, learn and ask good questions. Teachers, students, carpenters, truckers, techies, mothers and fathers all ventured out to this far out little cabin on the refuge to learn from these interesting talks.

The first presentation was Duane Chapman of the US Geological Survey, talking about the invasive Asian carp. Since then, he has kindly presented at all of our locations, some more than once! Everyone learned so much so fast. It seemed that every local expert on the Missouri River was willing to share their knowledge with us and soon we outgrew the little cabin.

Les Bourgeois Bistro, also perched on a bluff overlooking the river and Overton Bottoms, agreed to let us take over their basement once a month and it has never stopped.

Of course we had friends in other cities that got our emails too, and they wondered when they could  have similar talks in their towns. Pretty soon they decided to organize their own Big Muddy Speaker Series. Now they take place (almost) every month in Rocheport, Kansas City and St. Charles.

Some of our presenters have chatted across state by now, while each location finds local gems to share their story of the Missouri River.

Each community puts its own stamp on the idea. In Kansas City there is a “social hour” before the presentation, with friends catching up before they learn about yet another aspect of the watershed they live in. The KC talks were started in 2011 by a committee of volunteers from Missouri River Relief, Healthy Rivers Partnership and the Friends of Lakeside Nature Center.

In St. Charles, there is often a river adventure before each month’s talk. Either a paddle upstream with Big Muddy Adventures or a walk along the historic Katy Trail with a local expert. The St. Charles series was kicked off in 2012 and is organized by Greenway Network Co-Founder Greg Poleski with help from Friends of Big Muddy and Missouri River Relief.

In Rocheport, our biggest crowd was for a local documentary screening about the little river town of Lupus, complete with a question/answer session with the inventor of the Lupus Skycrapper. There was standing room only, with people dashing outside to catch a chilly glimpse of the river.

Each venue gives a local menu and a unique neighborhood feel. They all let us take over their space each month for free.

Until 2013, the web-based home for the talks was hosted by Missouri River Relief’s website. However, with a 2012 grant from the US Fish & Wildlife Service Ecological Services Field Office, we have been able to launch this new site, with lots of elbowroom to grow!

We have learned that these Big Muddy talks are a great way to get people interested in the river, gathering with each other, and sharing their knowledge. The Big Muddy Speaker Series can happen in any town. You might even call it something else!  Contact us if your interested in finding out more.