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 in Rocheport, also perched on a bluff overlooking the river and Overton Bottoms, agreed to let us take over their basement once a month and they generously hosted many Big Muddy Speaker Series over the years.

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. At one point monthly presentations were taking place in Rocheport, Kansas City and St. Charles and other locations like New Haven and Parkville have hosted talks.

Some of our presenters have chatted across the state by now, while each location finds local gems to share their story of the Missouri River. Currently, there are monthly presentations hosted by Greenway Network in St. Charles and Missouri River Relief in Columbia. The St. Charles series was started by Greenway Network co-founder Greg Poleski and was originally hosted in the backroom of Big A’s Bar & Grill on Main Street. In 2023 it moved to Bike Stop Cafe. Since Greg has left us, the amazing volunteers at Greenway Network, spearheaded by Charlene Wagonner, have built the series back up again.

In Rocheport, one of our biggest crowds 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. Other huge audiences gathered for talks by Janet Moreland about her Source to Sea journey on the Missouri & Mississippi Rivers, Michael Dickey discussing the story of the Missouria tribe and Scott Mansker talking about the history of the MR340. During the pandemic we switched to Zoom and have tried to keep streaming even when we returned to in-person events.

Now, we are excited to partner with Columbia Parks and Recreation to host the series in Columbia, MO each month at the Riechmann Indoor Pavilion in Stephen’s Lake Park. The central location and larger venue are perfect for welcoming in the newest era of the Big Muddy Speaker Series.

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

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 you’re interested in finding out more.