Visitors arrive by kayak

Published 6:55 pm Saturday, August 1, 2015

By Henry Luzzatto


Ten students arrived in Suffolk in an unusual way on Friday evening.

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The students pulled up in Eclipse by kayak after arriving from Richmond. They are participants in the James River Expedition, an educational program that sends 30 high school students on a trip to kayak the entire James River, all while learning about its ecosystem and history. The expedition is run by the James River Association and sponsored by the Dominion Foundation.

The trip is broken up into three sections, with each group of students kayaking a portion of the River. The third and final group enjoyed a seafood dinner at the Eclipse Ruritan Club on Friday night, as well as relaxation at Nansemond Swim Club.

Kyle Burnett, one of the expedition leaders, said that he saw the students’ outlooks change while on the trip.

“They’re not allowed to use cell phones or electronics for eight days on the trip,” he said. “Now they’re more conscious of the moment, more aware of what’s happening to the river.”

Burnett and Georgia Bush have led the expedition for the past three years. The two develop activities and educational curricula based on their locations, in order for the students to learn about the river.

Two teens from Smithfield, Kelly Moore and Blake Baumgartner, participated in the expedition. Moore, a rising 10th-grader at Smithfield High School, said she first became aware of the expedition when her mother found it in the paper.

“I looked it up, but the due date was a day after I found it,” she said. “So I stayed up all night writing the essay, but I guess it worked out.”

Moore said that she learned a lot while on the trip, emphasizing the ecology of the river.

“We got to go to two power stations,” Moore said, “and we saw how each were trying to decrease the impact on the environment.”

Baumgartner, a rising junior at Smithfield High School, said that he enjoyed the lack of access to modern technology on the trip.

“I liked that there were no electronics, and that we were out on the open water,” he said.

Baumgartner said his favorite memory of the trip was being picked up from a camp site in a pontoon boat, from which the students fished.

Both Moore and Baumgartner said they enjoyed the trip and found it rewarding.

“I really enjoyed to just enjoy the moment you’re living in right now,” Moore said.

Busch, one of the expedition leaders, said that the expedition tried to connect the students to living in the moment.

“They learned to be present,” Busch said. “In high school, they always have a schedule.”

As the leaders and students dug into crabs provided by the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance, Burnett said he hopes the students became more aware about what is happening to the river.

“The James is the greatest natural resource we have as Virginians,” he said. “And it will take all of us to improve the health of it.”

The expedition concluded on Saturday when the students reached Fort Monroe.