Explorers land in Suffolk

Published 8:45 pm Saturday, July 28, 2012

Students and their teachers from three Virginia high schools landed in Eclipse on Friday to spend the last night of their James River Expedition canoe trip. While here, they learned about preservation efforts in the Nansemond River, a tributary of the James.

A group of high schoolers from other parts of the state made a unique visit to Suffolk this weekend.

The group was on the last leg of the James River Expedition, an educational adventure aboard canoes that explored nearly the entire length of the river, from Alleghany County to Hampton.

“It was really eye-opening to learn a lot of things about the river,” said Hunter Goff, who attends J.R. Tucker High School in Henrico. “I never realized how many jobs are connected to our river.”


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The trip was led by the James River Association and funded by the Dominion Foundation. Gabe Silver, the education and outreach manager for the association, paddled the lead canoe.

Three different groups of students and teachers completed three eight-day segments of the trip. Along the way, they stopped at farms, power stations, wastewater treatment facilities, wildlife refuges, businesses and historical locations that are connected to the river. They also conducted activities such as water-quality testing, wildlife identification and more.

When the group pulled their canoes aground on Friday in Eclipse, they were welcomed by members of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance. The Nansemond River is a tributary of the James.

After the students took a dip in the pool at the Nansemond Swim Club, Karla Smith, alliance education committee co-chair, told them about what the alliance is doing to help improve water quality and public access in the Nansemond.

Afterward, the group feasted on crabs straight from the river and spent the night at the Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson Ruritan Hall. They were to finish up the final leg of the trip Saturday at Fort Monroe in Hampton.

This is the second time the association has led the trip, Silver said.

“The purpose of the trip is to take students and teachers and connect them to the James from an intense experience,” he said. “We want them to go home from this trip understanding how the James connects to our everyday lives.”

The students learned about biology, earth science, history and more during the trip. But better yet, Silver said, the students learned character.

“On this trip you get to see them grow, face fears and learn things,” Silver said. “It’s a great age to be learning your responsibility as a citizen to our natural resources.”

Jane Selden, a biology teacher at J.R. Tucker, said the trip had been a good experience both for her and her students.

“I learned more about the effects of industry and what organizations are doing to keep the James clean,” she said, adding she thinks her students now have a better idea of how what people do upstream affects the river downstream.

In addition, one of the other teachers on the trip actually was her former student, she said. That teacher had her son with her, so that made three generations that were impacted.

“We have different generations that are seeing different things,” she said.

Hailey Garrison, who attends James River High School in Botetourt County, said she came on the trip to learn about the river’s ecosystem.

“I learned about how much polluting can affect the water and the environmental changes caused by pollution,” she said. “It’s actually pretty awesome to be able to go through this.”

For more on the association, visit www.jamesriverassociation.org.