A Cub Creek Science camper makes friends with a bearded dragon.

These days, going away to camp can mean anything from being a veterinary assistant to making breakfast from scratch. Lori Martin, owner/director of Cub Creek Science Camp at Bear River Ranch, says so-called ‘specialty camps’ are becoming the summer activity of choice for many young people. “This generation of kids seems much more focused on how things will affect them,” she says. “They’re starting to plan at a much younger age where they want to go to school and what career they’d like to pursue, so being able to try out their interests is a big deal.”

    Cub Creek, located just an hour-and-a-half southwest of St. Louis in Rolla, offers one-, two-, four- and six-week courses for campers ages 7 through 17. Known for its animal-related programs, one of Cub Creek’s most popular courses is Junior Vet. “This program lets kids observe a surgery, read x-rays, and learn how to give injections by using oranges,” she says. “An actual veterinarian visits once a week to talk to them, and they find out whether the behind-the-scenes details of being a vet is of interest to them.”

       A new offering this year is a culinary science program where aspiring chefs can get their hands on some real food. “We take wheat, grind it, and turn it into pancakes. We churn cream into butter. We start with fruit and sugar, and create a topping for the pancakes,” Martin says, noting that the kitchen also becomes a science lab of sorts. “It goes beyond cooking. For instance, the kids learn about the insulating properties of egg whites.”

    Because Cub Creek is a family-run camp, Martin says activities are often added based on campers’ requests, including two new dig sites. “One is a simulated ocean site where they can dig up shells and identify mollusks. The other is a rock, mineral and fossil quarry,” she explains. “It’s a lot more interesting to learn about something when you discover it yourself and have it in your hand.”

    Martin says the camp’s family of more than 200 animals is growing. A new addition this year is a ring-tailed lemur. “So many kids love monkeys and want them as pets. With our three species of monkeys, we show children why primates really don’t make good pets. They see for themselves how difficult it is to keep monkeys happy and healthy.”

    An outdoor nursery for larger animals is another new feature for 2009. “We’ll have individual pens for baby pigs, sheep, llamas, alpacas, etc.,” Martin notes. “We’ll also have a new building to house our three monkeys, where kids can feed them and make toys for them.” In addition, the building will feature a nighttime country environment for nocturnal animals. “It’s a nighttime habitat that kids can go into during the day and visit with our kinkajous (or honey bears),” she says, adding, “With more and more kids becoming interested in what we do, we just can’t build fast enough!”