One day in early November, in Roswell, Georgia, jittery students and chaperones from the greater Atlanta area arrived at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. They were greeted by the center’s staff, National Park Service rangers, Forest Service employees, and Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile outdoor leaders. The Canoemobile outdoor leaders were there to guide the teenagers on the Chattahoochee River in 24-foot Voyageur canoes. The employees from other organizations were there to teach the students about the local environment at different land-based stations.
Excitement filled the air as the students and staff gathered in a circle for introductions. The students were then divided into groups for canoeing. They loaded into the Voyageurs and started paddling. Once on the water, many of the students broke into songs initiated by their boat captains. Other captains pointed out the wildlife, including a great blue heron wading on the river’s edge. Eventually, the boat captains called for “Silent Nature Time,” and had the students close their eyes for one minute and use their other senses to feel what was around them. One student said at that moment he felt “…peaceful silence really. That’s when I was at complete happiness.”
Once back on land, the students learned about watersheds, plant life, local history, and raptors with partner organizations. One of the highlights for many students was getting to watch the Chattahoochee Nature Center staff handle the birds of prey they rehab—including a barred owl, red tail hawk, and bald eagle. After the day was over, students gathered in a circle and shared the lessons that stuck with them. “I learned that 75 percent of our drinking water comes from the Chattahoochee,” said one student.
After the day ended, positive reviews and memories continued to come in from the students. We’ve included excerpts of some of them below.
“The trip definitely enlightened me with information about nature, like the variation of animals you can find in one habitat and environmental problems we go through the day not even thinking about. Personally, this was my first time canoeing and it was fun doing something that I have never done before—and it was relaxing to be in nature and away from school, my phone, and the busyness of my life.” — Bliss I.
“I am rower for the Atlanta Junior Rowing Association and have practiced on that portion of the river everyday for the past four years. Therefore, I have always had a love for the Chattahoochee. Despite this fact, I am embarrassed to admit that I knew almost nothing about this river prior to the excursion on Wednesday. It was so interesting to understand the river that I’ve spent hundreds of hours rowing on. I now have a much greater appreciation for it.” —Jake M.
“I had a fantastic time on the river—which was absolutely beautiful. In addition, I really enjoyed the activities in which we learned about the red tailed hawk and the runoff of water in different areas. I learned many things, including how the hawk is a tertiary predator and how, if it were removed from the food chain, it would affect the entire ecosystem including the quality of water. I hope to be able to revisit the Chattahoochee River soon to appreciate the beauty of nature that I do not get to experience as often as I would like to.” —Ben S.
“…one of the most memorable experiences on the field trip was seeing a deer swim across the river as we canoed. It was so surreal to me. I realized that’s there’s more than just people around me. Canoeing was really fun. I loved getting the chance to go down the Chattahoochee River and see all the wildlife. We tried this power push where we would count to 20, paddling all together in sync. We went really fast—a really great workout if you asked me. Along the trip we saw a bird dive down and catch a trout. What an experience to see.” —Holly H.
—Reporting in the field by Angie Banks