Students explore the James River

Published 10:22 pm Friday, July 29, 2016

A group of students convened at the Eclipse Ruritan Club Thursday afternoon after spending most of the week canoeing along the lower section of the James River.

The group was the last of three that traveled the James this summer. They began their journey on June 24 in Hopewell and concluded in Hampton on Friday.

Now in its sixth year, the program selected 27 high school students from the area to participate in one of three six-day trips along the James. The first group traveled from Eagle Rock to Snowden and the second group traveled from Concord to Columbia.

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The expedition is run by the James River Association.

During the expedition, students interact with business owners, farmers and other residents to learn about their livelihoods and their uses for the river.

“This helps tell a story of the people and who are living here,” said Karla Smith, chairman of Suffolk River Heritage.

Georgia Busch, a James River Association educator, added the expedition is a great learning experience for the students.

“This creates an opportunity for immersive learning,” she said.

Specifically, the third group learned about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the dangers of pollution in the area. They also learn about methods to minimize waste production.

The group also visited one of Dominion’s power plants to learn of the company’s conservation efforts.

Students have been without social media and technology for the duration of the trip, which has forced them to adapt.

“This makes you appreciate what we take for granted,” said Joel Calfee, 18, one of the students in the program.

Merilyn Zinkwich, 15, another one of the students in the program, said the expedition has grown her appreciation for nature.

“We get to experience all the beauty nature provides and how important the river is,” she said.

While the exploration factor was fun, the group had to endure lengthy canoe rides in the blistering heat. At one point, the group paddled for more than eight hours in one sitting.

Busch, who has participated in the program for four years, said she enjoys seeing the “bonds and leadership” the students develop over the course of their respective voyages.

“This keeps it fresh and alive,” she said.

Prior to this year, the expedition has attracted more than 137 students and 26 teachers from 34 schools in the James River watershed.