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story.lead_photo.caption Julie Smith/News Tribune John, left, and Brandy Booyer enjoy the feel of their feet in the dirt as they kicked of their shoes and relaxed on the bank of the Missouri River Monday, seated in a swing, watching the sun reflect off the water as it flowed by. The day’s temperature didn’t make it feel much like October but the wind that is blowing in a front that will cause mid-week temperatures to drop into the the mid-50’s for a high, will remind you that it is the 10th month.

From African American history to French and German, or to the history of the state's cemeteries, Missouri has a gold mine of historical tidbits hidden under the surface, just waiting to be found. And that's what the Missouri Explorers program aims to do — bring them to light in an educational experience that will enrich your knowledge of the places in which you already live.

The Missouri Explorers Program launched in the spring and has continued on throughout the summer as Missourians return to travel and the outdoors following an intensive pandemic-riddled 2020.

Organizations such as the St. Louis Public Library, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Lebanon- Laclede County Route 66 Society signed on in the spring to sponsor and promote the state's cultural heritage, offering Missourians a wide range of activities for all ages to enjoy.

Morgan Dennehy, bicentennial projects coordinator, is quoted in Missouri Times, saying, "we're so excited by the level of interest and how families, especially, are using the challenges to learn and pass along the heritage of our state to the next generation."

Those who take part in the Missouri Explorer challenges receive "merit buttons" or badges upon completion. To earn a badge, participants must take photos at their respective locations, then upload the photos into a photo portal. You can also share your adventures to social media using the hashtag #MOExplorers.

For each badge, an explanation of places and their significance, plus contact information, addresses and a link to more information is included. The Capital City Challenge, located all within Jefferson City, requires participants to visit at least 10 out of nearly two dozen locations around town. Included are the likes of the Missouri Supreme Court building, the McClung Park mural and Joe Wilson's Serenity Point.

Other badges, such as the African American history badge, will take you to the John William "Blind" Boone home in Columbia or the Lincoln University and Soldiers Memorial Plaza here in Jefferson City. However, to pursue a badge like African American history, you'll need to dedicate some time to cross-state travel: This badge requires participants visit 10 sites in at least five different counties, as does the "Travel the Mother Road" badge, a challenge based on Route 66.

Or, if you want to wine and dine for the rest of the summer, the "Wind Down in Wine Country" challenge requires participants visit at least 25 wineries (just a fifth of Missouri's 126 wineries) within the Missouri Winery Visitors Program and snap their photos in the tasting room.

The program is free and open to the public, but registration is required to earn badges. Registration includes a photo release and a pledge to approach the geographic and cultural diversity of the state with an open mind, and to respect the land and people of the state.

Missouri Explorer participants are responsible for checking hours and availability of sites before arriving for all challenges.

Upcoming Aug. 10, as part of the state's bicentennial celebrations, is Statehood Day in Jefferson City, an all-day event to include the formal recognition of the Missouri Bicentennial, a reveal of the bicentennial stamp, exhibits in the Capitol, a U.S. naturalization ceremony and an ice cream social at Central Dairy, 610 Madison St.

More information about bicentennial events, including the Explorers Program, can be found at missouri2021.org.

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