The Riverguides kicked off 2016-2017 with a great first three months! We started off the fall spending every day on the river, first learning how to get our boats on the river and row, and working up to performing a water sampling protocol which involved net tows for plankton and microplastics, water collections for chemical analysis, seining, and land-based trash surveys. We also contributed data to the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, surveying the shores of Palmyra, NJ for mussels. As part of this project we learned how to identify different types of mussels, their roles in aquatic ecosystems, and went through dissections to see aspects of their anatomy. In November, we moved upstream from the Delaware River to one of its tributaries, Tacony Creek. Here we continued our water sampling regimen, and coordinated a cleanup of Tacony Creek with our neighbors, Tookany-Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, a conservation group serving our watershed and community! We also cannot forget about the work we did with the Delaware River City Corporation. Led by their project manager Jim Fries, we continued our work at Lardners Point Park, removing invasive plants while planting some native wetland species and breaking ground on a rain garden to be installed in spring.
In December we shifted our focus indoors to set up for a two-night event showcasing everything we had learned and done over the previous two months. Both our Monday/Wednesday and Tuesday/Thursday cohorts decided on transforming the whole 2nd floor of the building into a Delaware River ecosystem to provide as close as possible an interactive exhibit. We opened up these exhibits to the community and showed our visitors everything we know about the Delaware River and its health. A popular activity included a guided rowing station combined with a sense of rowing through and among the litter in the river. Our students used this as an opportunity to talk about how litter gets to the river from land, the effects it has on the ecosystem, how they’ve been researching how much is in the water and on its shores, and what each of us can do to prevent litter from entering the river.
This trimester our focus remains for now indoors, and though it may be winter, we are definitely not dormant. We’ve been preparing ourselves to provide science activities and demonstrations that coordinate with middle school science curricula. We will eventually be taking these exhibits into different middle school classrooms to supplement what teachers are already teaching and show how science can be fun! We’re finding ways to link every one of our activities back to the Delaware River, its watershed, and boats, so that come spring we can invite these same students onto the river with us to experience the water up close!
Last night I found out that there is a new BBC Planet Earth series on its way, 10 years after the first premiered in 2006. I can’t begin to count the nights that I’ve drifted into sleep accompanied by the tonic voice of David Attenborough announcing flora and fauna with both reverence and warmth: “graas” “a grizzalee bear”. The final video in the original set is anything but soothing; it offers a biopsy of our changing planet – its warming climate, dying oceans and gradual depletion of the resources needed for all living things. It’s hard to see stories of incredible natural beauty along with narrativea of great loss.
Fortunately, I get to balance the sad realities of that final episode while at the office watching the important, collaborative work that our staff and apprentices are engaging in to preserve our local watershed. Of course, our neighborhood looks nothing like what you see on the Planet Earth series. During the industrial revolution, our riverine natural beauty was replaced with concrete shorelines and a far less healthy ecosystem. Only recently has the city begun the process of reclaiming its natural resources, and it’s not nearly as simple as bringing in soil, plants and birdseed. It takes trial, error, expertise, and a lot of hard work.
Our teenage RiverGuides apprentices bring all of the above – and a little birdseed too. They have always dedicated themselves to mitigating river pollution in our watershed and are now embarking on a new emphasis on countering micro-plastics’ pervasive assault on the heath of the Delaware River. The project got the attention of the folks at 11th Hour Racing, a project of the Schmidt Family Foundation, who awarded us a grant to bring this new focus to fruition.
11th Hour Racing funds innovative efforts, both inside and outside of the sailing industry, that systematically improve the health of our oceans and waterways and preserve their vital resources. The staff at 11th Hour Racing told us that the fact that the RiverGuides initiative leveraged youth voices to mobilize and rally communities around environmental efforts was what resonated most with them. We understand the gravity of the RiverGuides’ efforts to gain traction with environmental issues in the communities we serve. Well-intentioned organizations from outside our target areas have struggled trying to build trusting, supportive relationships with our residents. There is distrust of outsiders and skepticism toward initiatives imported form the outside. What distinguishes the RiverGuides’ efforts is that they are being built from within by those that have a personal stake in the outcomes.
I noticed in the preview for the upcoming, new Planet Earth series that, for the first time, they will feature wildlife in urban settings, areas where humans have created their own habitats. This seems to me a significant message, and one that I find comfort in. It serves as a reminder that nature cannot be dichotomized from the human experience. We are part of nature, and we have to find ways to do less harm and repair damage we create so there is space for all forms of life to thrive in our shared habitat. I draw inspiration from our RiverGuides, 11th Hour Racing, and the fantastic organizations they support, all of whom are working to do just that. I look forward to sharing more posts in the future outlining the progress of this project, what others are also accomplishing, as well as new partnerships we are contemplating. Hopefully together, we can create a different narrative.
PWBF is excited to add sail making to the boat shop! Kim, our Sail Loft Coordinator, will be posting about the apprentices’ sail making progress throughout the year, so check back for more updates. Enjoy her first blog post below!
Greetings from the PWBF sail loft. I am excited to report that our first sail making projects have begun. We are getting to know the new PWBF space and each other as we build 3 sails for the Catspaw Dinghy, designed by Joel White & N.G. Herreshoff. It is the perfect first sail-making endeavor for our outfit.
It feels appropriate that the first sails we build will belong to that unpretentious and adventurous little tender. The description resembles our team. Our sail making team is comprised of several smart young men and women from several area high schools with almost no sewing experience. We are a pragmatic crew. Keep it simple is our unofficial motto. With that in mind our only obstacle has been a lack of clean working space to lay out our sails. We are a shop, shops are dusty, and sailmakers (I am learning) are finicky about keeping things tidy.
Nevertheless, these finicky young adults progress. Apart, from several man hours lost to sewing machine snags (literally snags of bobbin thread); we are well into the manufacture of our third sail. Which is not to say that its been a piece of cake. Even with the best sewing machine, and the support of sailmakers from two coasts (thank you esp, Carol Hasse) it can be easy to get bogged down in the bigness of taking on something entirely new.
Each time this happens I find myself wondering about what success will look like for this crew. Never mind finishing the sails. What are these young men and women going to walk away from PWBF knowing that they did not already know on their first day? So far, I know our team is a sturdy tender like the Catspaw dinghy. She is not easily intimidated, and keeps going in rough waters. I look forward to keeping everyone up to date with all our future successes. For daily updates on the progress of our sail making team visit our instagram at pwbf_sailmaking.