November 16th 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