We probably all know someone like them.  The woman who is more at home in a canoe than a kitchen. The guy who likes mountains more than movies. Or the kid who spends every possible moment outside.  With the Illinois River Watershed spanning more than a million acres in northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma, it’s not difficult to find beauty around us, but these people make exploring nature an art form.

Osage River Expedition

 Enjoying the ride on the Osage River

Some people are fortunate enough to realize their passion and integrate it deeply into their life at a very young age. My friend Lauren is a success story in that way. She was the type of high school student that teachers would describe as disciplined and focused. She excelled at her studies and positioned herself very well to succeed in collage.  But they may not have known some of Lauren’s most frequent thoughts.  They may not have noticed when her mind wandered occasionally to her next outdoor adventure.  Or when she daydreamed of returning home to continue her exploration the creek out back. Her true love was the outdoors.


Osage expedition team

 Teamed up for an expedition

Lauren accepted a scholarship to study at the University of the Ozarks and selected a major in Business Management and Marketing.  But one day, while she struggled to engage in her chosen subjects, she realized she had a choice.   It finally clicked.  She realized that her passion for nature and her desire to have a productive career didn’t have to exist independently.

She joined a couple of campus organizations geared toward conservation and outdoors leadership.  She changed her major to Environmental Studies and was rewarded by getting academic credit to do the fieldwork and outdoors conservation projects that she loved.  By the time she graduated, she had studied in Mexico, Costa Rica, the Amazon Rainforest, and over ten U.S. national parks.  She received countless accolades for the passion she showed in all she achieved, and landed a full-time job with a conservation organization.  She found a way to merge her passion with her profession. 

Lauren Ray

Lauren in the great outdoors


At the Illinois River Watershed partnership, our Education and Outreach mission is dedicated to helping people of all ages understand and appreciate their surroundings. And to fueling their passions…transforming them into beneficial practices. Through camps, workshops, activities, resources and programs, we provide a variety of learning and volunteer opportunities.

Lauren and teachers canoe trip

 Canoe trip with Arkansas Teachers


But we have a special place in our hearts for engaging young minds in the task of conservation. The Illinois River Watershed Partnership recognizes that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders.  Our education and outreach efforts are designed to instill principles of stewardship and personal accountability while inspiring positive actions to preserve, protect, and restore the land and water of the Illinois River Watershed.


Lauren Ray with twins at Watershed Camp

Lauren with Watershed campers

We’re so fortunate that Lauren Ray chose environmental conservation as her life’s work. My friend Lauren is the Education Outreach Coordinator here at the Illinois River Watershed Partnership. Under her leadership, we are creating many new opportunities for passionate people like her to learn more about our amazing rivers, lakes and streams and to put those learnings to good use.



On January 3, 2014, the Illinois River Watershed Partnership will host a Conservation Leadership Summit for high school students.   This free, one-day event will allow students from local high schools to tour sites of significance within the Illinois River Watershed and develop watershed-based conservation leadership.  Students will work together and discuss project ideas to improve water quality and promote awareness of best management practices for our land and waterways.  Students will be encouraged to design, lead, and implement these projects after the summit.  Upon completion of the summit, all participants will be awarded a certificate recognizing them as a Student Leader in Watershed Conservation.  Students who then complete a conservation project in the Illinois River Watershed will be rewarded with a daylong Illinois River float trip in the summer or fall of 2014.


Do you know a high school student who loves the outdoors?  We’d love to help turn that passion into a catalyst for learning.  Contact us for more information about this great opportunity! 


Related Posts:

Nature’s Classroom: 3 Cheers for Trees!

The Great Watershed Quest

Growing Conservation

So Long, Summer!


Additional Resources:

IRWP Education and Outreach 2013 Action Plan