Canoe trip provides pathway to learning

They caught crayfish, spotted birds, sampled the water – all on a four-hour canoe journey down the Susquehanna River on a mid-September day.

More than a dozen Hughesville High School students paddled the stream, had fun and picked up a thing or two about the river and its environs in the process.

It was all part of The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s field educational programs that provide hands-on learning.

“Looking in the water and seeing what is there. It never gets old,” said Tom Parke, an educator with Chesapeake’s Susquehanna Watershed Education Program, or SWEP, which operates a mobile/traveling canoe fleet for students, teachers and guests.

SWEP has brought hands-on experiential learning programs in the state for more than 25 years.

An early morning chill gave way to a warm sunlit day, making for near perfect conditions for floating downstream from Lock Haven to McElhattan.

“We caught 40 crayfish altogether,” said 11th grade student Derrick Horne. “Crayfish were everywhere.”

Horne said he had a chance to test the pH level of the water which registered at 8.

In general, water with a pH lower than 7 is considered acidic, while a pH greater than 7 is considered basic. The normal range for pH in surface water systems is 6.5 to 8.5,

Part of SWEP’s education process includes water quality programs designed to reinforce in-class lessons and to emphasize the importance of clean water.

Lisa Strouse, Hughesville science teacher and advisor of Envirothon, the high school’s student organization, said the water was low in lots of spots.

“We had to get out (of the canoes) to push through the shallow water,” she said.

Students had a chance to study the hellgremites and caddis larvae present in the water, she noted.

Parke said he spotted some heron, even a bald eagle near the mouth of Bald Eagle Creek.

“We did some biological sampling looking at macroinvertebrates,” Parke said.

The river journey marked the second for Emily Worrall, student president of Envirothon.

During the trip there was a lot of dialogue about the diversity of plant and bird life, she noted.

“Nobody fell in,” she said. (But) a lot of us wanted to go swimming.”

Worrall said she had little trouble recruiting students for the trip.

“Everybody who heard about it was interested,” she said. “It was nice. A lot warmer than last year.”

Parke said the Susquehanna River journey can help students not only learn something but come to better appreciate the stream.

“Hopefully, they will learn to protect it a little bit,” he said.

The trip included a stop for lunch along the river.

Afterwards, students loaded the canoes onto a truck, received some final instructive words from Parke and then got on a bus to head back to Hugheville.

Some of the students agreed that the river trip beat sitting in a classroom on a sunny late summer day.

“Yes it was fun,” said 11th grade student Christina Finamore. “This is the second year I did this.”