Blog: November 2015
Sometimes I feel like I’m the keeper of a secret. I know of a very special place, a place of peace and solitude, a place of natural beauty, a place of incredible contrast. It’s a river and it flows through a city that you would likely never hear defined with the words just written. It’s the tidal Cooper River that winds its way through the city of Camden.
My students and I paddle this river in the wooden canoes and kayaks we build in our boat shop. The shop is located in a century-old church that is now the Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum in the city’s Waterfront South neighborhood. We begin our paddle at the Kaighn Avenue dam and paddle through the city to the confluence of the Delaware River back channel behind Petty’s island. This urban river flows through the tidal marsh, a lush and vibrant environment that for most of us goes unnoticed.
And while this is Camden, a place known for extreme poverty and violence; this is not what we see. We see magnificent Great Blue Herons, Snowy White Egrets, Belted Kingfishers, Red Winged Black Birds, and so much more. We paddle past skeleton remains of old brick buildings that once housed the industries of a manufacturing Mecca, known as Camden. Our journey takes us under highways and bridges where thousands of motorists pass overhead each day completely unaware of the amazing adventure we are having on a river they never see.
Once, paddling under the beautiful old swing bridge of Federal Street, a student who rode the bus twice each day across this bridge, to and from school, shared that he felt like a tourist in his own city; only the river could give him that perspective.
The river has become our classroom. Our students regularly test for water quality, seine, and analyze micro organisms for additional signs of the river’s health. We advocate before city and regional government for better access to the river, and for an environmental justice that’s not being fairly shared between more affluent suburbs and the urban community.
Through our Trekker and BoatWorks programs we have been able to provide an alternate view for many teens throughout our city. Whether pedaling or paddling, the effect--or ripple, if you will--can be the spark to bring transformation to the lives you help us impact by your faithful and continuing support.Blessings, Jim Director of Experiential Learning
Despite what you may be thinking, this is not a story about a sequel to the 1970’s science fiction film about alien intelligence. In fact, the only science fiction element of our trip was during our storytelling time around the campfire. What we did experience were many encounters with the wildlife of Assateague Island with our UPA sophomores this October.
Our first close encounter with the Equus ferus, the wild horses of Assateague, was our first night. As we walked up the beach from our evening campfire, we were startled when we saw a small herd of wild horses grazing on salt marsh cord grass, their main food source. The wild horses’ eyes reflected the bright lights of our headlamps. Needless to say, our Trekkers hurriedly made it back to their tents that first night.
Fear soon turned to curiosity. The following day, we learned that there were a number of wild horses inhabiting our campsite. With daylight, the Trekkers didn’t seem as frightened as they had the night before. From a distance, we watched in awe as the horses made their way around. This sparked a lot of conversation amongst the students about visiting natural places like Assateague and how humans and wildlife can co-exist.
Wild horses were not the only thing we were able to watch on the beautiful barrier island. We also had the chance to spot many different shorebird species like the brown pelican, the white-tailed deer and horseshoe crabs along the coastline.Now you may be wondering what the meaning of Equus ferus really is. Equus ferus is the scientific name for a wild horse. The sophomores connected what they had seen at Assateague in the classroom during their Biology class post-trip. While studying the classification of living things, the students used their experience to deepen their understanding of how scientists group living things based on specific traits. It goes to show that observing wildlife in their natural habitats can be both a fascinating and educational experience.
Keep on Trekking,
Environmental Educator, Urban Trekkers