During two days this October in Philadelphia, more than 400 students, teachers, and chaperones lined up to paddle in Wilderness Inquiry’s 24-foot Voyageur canoes. The participants moods ranged from excitement to nervousness before they entered their boats. Once they were in the canoes and paddling, Wilderness Inquiry outdoor leaders initiated songs and chants—or shared unique facts about the urban waterways. Many students who were initially nervous started to enjoy being on the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. “I’m going to ask my parents if I can do this for my birthday,” said a student from Lea Elementary School.
Being nervous before getting into a Voyageur canoe is quite common for children heading out on urban waterways. Many have only heard negative things about their bays, lakes, and rivers. Their worries tend to fade away once they get into a canoe and start to paddle. Once they learn more about the waterways, their excitement turns to amazement. In Philadelphia, students were stunned to learn they were paddling on the source of the water that comes out of their faucets.
Wilderness Inquiry was lucky to partner with organizations in Philadelphia that could teach students even more about their waterways, such as Fairmount Water Works, Friends of the Wissahickon, Urban Promise, NJDEP Watershed Ambassadors, Food Corps, the Center for Aquatic Sciences, and the US Coast Guard—who escorted the boats around the highly trafficked rivers. The partners educated students on everything from local history to what people can do to make the rivers as environmentally healthy as possible.
At the end of each day of paddling, everyone had positive things to say about the epiphanies children had exploring their rivers. “I like how we learned from the watershed model how the pollution and chemicals get into our river and then we got to paddle on the river and I picked up a piece a trash and I knew where it came from,” said a student from Camden Promise Middle School.
“My son wants to be a rescue ranger or park ranger now,” said a parent on Instagram, “He likes the adventure of rescuing someone and the joy of teaching others about nature.”
—Reporting by Angie Banks