Bottom’s Up!: Aquatic Teacher Training on Lake Champlain

It’s a great feeling when people whom you invite on an adventure say, “Sure!” and jump in the boat with you. This has been the case with LCMM’s latest on-water workshop for educators, a program we’re calling Bottom’s Up!

Bottom’s Up!

Bottoms-UpBottom’s Up! is an aquatic science teacher-training workshop that LCMM has orchestrated with the help of a number of enthusiastic partners.  It’s funded by a generous grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency that brings you weather forecasts, marine sanctuaries, and coastal fisheries management, among other things. The NOAA grant is called B-WET, which stands for Bay Watershed Education and Training, an environmental education program that promotes locally relevant, experiential learning in the K-12 environment.

Our good fortune started with an invitation by Shelburne Farms to use a space in their well-appointed Farm Barn for hosting one of these training workshops. We also were delighted to find that, as we got the word out to schools and environmental education programs, over 15 teachers registered on-line for our Chittenden County-based training session. On a mid-October morning we all settled in with coffee, to an airy, wood-paneled room with plenty of natural light and excellent kitchen and restroom facilities, all in a castle-like setting – what more could you ask for?

Lake Champlain Ecology

Ben Mayock and I, co-leaders for Bottoms-Up!, were lucky to be able to schedule Lake Champlain Committee’s staff scientist Mike Winslow to come first thing that morning to speak to teachers about Lake Champlain’s ecology. Mike dived right in 100,000 years ago and brought us through the lake’s glaciation, floods, and other geologic and ecological upheavals, and then in short order opened up the floor for a fruitful session of Q&A. Participants had a lot of questions for him!


On the Water

The day’s good start was matched by fine autumn weather for launching our fleet of canoes in Shelburne Bay and toodling up the LaPlatte River. There, Ben and I demonstrated some elements of LCMM’s On-Water Ecology program: measuring water turbidity with the world-renowned Secchi disk, collecting plankton, and seine-netting for littoral-zone (i.e., near-shore) fish. The teachers clearly loved being out on the water and getting their hands wet.

Aquatic Literacy

Our goal was far beyond hawking our own wares, however, so we included Erin DeVries, theUniversity of Vermont’s Watershed Alliance Education & Outreach Coordinator, in the mix. After participating educators paddled back to shore in canoes, Erin was waiting for us to give a quick overview of the “Aquatic Literacy” she brings to schools, and the activities she leads with students so that they can investigate the invertebrates that are remarkably accurate indicators of health or impairment in streams.

Watershed Stewardship

Those outdoor morning offerings provided teachers a basic primer of some water quality assessments they could undertake in the field with their students. Next, we returned to Shelburne Farms where we were welcomed by Marty Illick, the Director of the Lewis Creek Association, and Ned Swanberg, the Mapping and Planning Coordinator for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. After joining us for a localvore lunch, topped off with baguettes from the O’Bread Bakery right next door, Marty gave a passionate talk encouraging teachers to involve their students in field work that can make a difference in watershed stewardship.

Ned, who has long experience helping Conservation Commissions and other small organizations use maps to their advantage, offered a brief slide show explaining how rivers behave in their “corridors.” Although the Vermont DEC for many years has been urging communities to leave room for rivers to move more flexibly in their floodplains, Tropical Storm Irene underlined this need dramatically! Ned brought these broad concepts into concrete terms by walking the educators through an exercise that measures riparian buffers. Using maps, random number tables, and rulers, teachers bent down over their tables and got to work just like good students! The buffer-measuring exercise proved interesting and yielded results pretty quickly, so it is likely we will work with Ned and probably Erin as well to formalize this activity.


Let’s Go Fishing

Last but not least, Karl Hubbard, a certified instructor for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Let’s Go Fishing program, demonstrated some activities that kids love. The avuncular and good-humored angler sat down with participants to “construct a pond” out of felt and various cute little models of rocks, plants and critters, thus demonstrating essential parts of an aquatic habitat. He also spoke about fishing ethics, tested us on our fish identification skills, and then took us outside to try some rods and reels. Casting for plastic lawn fish was a high point!

Overall Ben and I felt it was a fantastic day filled with substance, including the lunch of chili, squash-ginger soup, salad, and the most important food group of all: chocolate.

We are extremely grateful to all the presenters who joined us in offering meaningful ways for educators to engage their classes in aquatic investigations. We hope this is just the beginning of an effort to jointly provide Vermont schools with all the tools they need to offer rigorous curricula that take kids outside to learn about their local streams, ponds, wetlands, and lakes.

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Lake Champlain Rowing Boat to Join US Navy Fleet


Last month, a boat built by Lake Champlain high school students was the latest vessel to join the U.S. Navy fleet.

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum delivered the Lake Champlain boat to the U.S. Navy crew of the USS Constitution on October 25, 2014 (at the 2014 Head of the Weir River Race), making it the newest vessel in the Navy’s fleet.  This beautiful wooden pilot gig named Harvest Moon will be used by the crew of the USS Constitution in regional rowing races in the Boston area.

The crew of the Boston-berthed USS Constitution have been rowing pilot gigs for several years. “It builds camaraderie amongst the crew members to be able to compete in a rowing race,” said Chief Builder (SCW) Christopher Locke back in 2012.

Harvest Moon was built during the winter of 2009 – 2010 by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Champlain Longboats program by students and staff from the Diversified Occupations program and boatbuilders from the Maritime Museum.

Says LCMM’s Director of Outdoor Education Nick Patch, “We are thrilled and honored to pass this wonderful vessel built at the Maritime Museum on to the revered crew of the US Navy’s USSConstitution.”   It was a proud day for LCMM and the hard working youth and volunteer boat builders.

About USS Constitution

USS-ConstitutionUSS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. The 44-gun frigate was constructed in Boston, MA in 1797 to defend US naval interests abroad.  She received her nickname “Old Ironsides” during battle with HMS Guerriere in August 1812 in which 18-pound British cannonballs bounced off her 25-in-thick oak hull as if “her sides were made of iron”.  USS Constitution is scheduled to undergo major repairs starting in spring 2015, with a return to the water in 2017.  More about USS Constitution.


Champlain Longboats Around the Region

Student-built boats from LCMM’s Champlain Longboats Program are often seen on Lake Champlain rowing, but did you know they travel all around the region for youth rowing races, and some been commissioned or purchased by other groups?  Just to mention a few:

  • Crouching Lion (b 2005) resides at the Boston Rowing Center. They describe the paint job as a “characteristic Vermont gypsy color scheme of red and yellow”!
  • Whitehall gigs Firefly (b 2010) and Bowfin (b 2011) are also at the Boston Rowing Center.
  • LCMM-built whaleboat (b 2014) now accompanies Mystic Seaport whaleship Charles W. Morgan