By Mandy Nix
The croaks of a great blue heron pierce the morning.
“Frawnk, frawnk, frawnk!”
Mist enshrouds the reservoir as the bird stands sentinel among the cattails. At the shoreline, 20 human visitors flock to Stroud Water Research Center’s tomato-red canoes, their vessels for a day of discovery, inquiry, and adventure during on-the-water education.
“Whether we’re engaging youth or adults, you can see a participant’s excitement as they step into a canoe and hear that first slosh of water on their paddle. That signals adventure!” says Tara Muenz, assistant director of education.
Muenz helps coordinate and teach on-the-water education at local rivers and reservoirs for school, Scout, and educator professional development programs alike. These boatside experiences are more than canoeing expeditions. As students, teachers, and Stroud Center educators push off from the water’s edge, they greet a day of hands-on skill-building, teambuilding, environmental STEM, water-quality testing, native species scavenger hunts, and unique learning experiences in their backyard watershed.
“Getting participants outside for learning in nature is a vital step in helping them make connections between the content and the real world,” explains David Kline, watershed education specialist, who describes the programs as “landmark events” in the lives of many participants. “Particularly when teaching youth, this is often a participant’s very first time canoeing, and possibly their first time visiting this particular waterway or place.”
The Stroud Center previously fostered on-the-water education with watershed education partners like the Sultana Education Foundation, who provided canoes for a fall 2018 program for Octoraro High School students. Now, however, the education department is thrilled to enhance its existing on-the-water education with its own fleet of eight canoes, two instructor kayaks, a boat trailer, and all other necessary equipment, made possible through significant donations from McLean Contributionship, the Rotary Club of Longwood, the Redwoods Group Foundation, and an anonymous individual donor. Materials were purchased from Wilderness Canoe Trips, Inc., who provided a generous discount to support unique educational experiences that do not end on the water.
“Canoeing provides a fun opportunity to interact with nature in a way that is not only memorable, but also deeply transformative,” says Kline. “These on-the-water education experiences deepen participants’ appreciation for nature, inspire them to care for our natural resources, and affect positive change towards sustainable living.”
As local waterways teem with spring life, the education department looks forward to how the new canoes will germinate new experiences in future programs for all ages.