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James River Ecology School students will “Get Their Feet Wet”

James River Ecology School students hard at work. Photo courtesy of Sandra Marr
James River Ecology School students hard at work. Photo courtesy of Sandra Marr

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the James River Association recently began their “Wet Feet” campaign to build a youth ecology school at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. The school is being funded by donations from private foundations and individuals as well as a $125,000 challenge grant from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation. At the James River Ecology School, students will have a fun and unique opportunity to learn about the James River and “get their feet wet.”

The James River Ecology School will be located on Presquile Island, a 1329-acre uninhabited island on the James River. An existing ranger house on the island is being renovated to include a meeting room, staff quarters kitchen and dining hall, and bunkhouse for up to 30 people. A wetland walkway, classroom pavilion and canoe launch are also being constructed to provide students with outdoor spaces to learn. Construction of the school will be finished in the spring of 2011 and will begin hosting students in the fall.

On the island, students will take part in a fun and interactive curriculum that will be taught to the Virginia Standards of Learning. A full-time ecology school leader will teach classes and field trips assisted by an educator/boat captain and an intern.

During the course of their three day- two night stay on the island, students will go on many outdoor excursions to learn hands-on about the ecology of the James River. Groups will have at least two boat trips on the river as well as a canoe trip up a tidal creek in a swamp. They will also go on several walking and wading expeditions around the island. 

On a typical day, students might go on an early morning bird walk, have breakfast and split into two smaller groups. Each group will have two sets of active, outdoor lessons in the morning and two more after lunch. These activities will include water quality testing, canoe paddling, biodiversity assessments and species counts. There will be an evening program every night after dinner including a campfire talk about history and culture around the James River.

The Service will play an integral role in the future of the James River Ecology School. The James River Association and the Service have a memorandum of understanding between them stating that they will collaborate with each other on all aspects of the school. The Service will review the curriculum, assist with field trips, allow the use of its land and facilities, provide special-use permits for activities and promote the program. The two organizations will meet annually to go over the memorandum and coordinate their efforts.

Students of the James River Ecology School will gain more knowledge and awareness of their environment as well as develop an increased sense of self-confidence in outdoor settings. Hopefully, when they return home, they will become environmental leaders in their own schools. The main goal of the ecology school goes hand in hand with the Service’s priority to connect people with nature and promote environmental stewardship for the future. Together, the James River Association and the Service have made this mission possible with their “Wet Feet” campaign.

Story by External Affairs Intern Maddie List

Last updated: January 11, 2011
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