Second AmeriCorp Member Joins Lake Champlain Maritime Museum!

tumblr_nmwo55tmaf1qh8viko6_500The new AmeriCorps program at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is speeding right along with the addition of a second AmeriCorps volunteer! My name is Eileen Leary, and I’m a 25 year old MA graduate from University College London. I grew up around boats – I’ve been on them since literally before I was born! – have degrees in history and archaeology, and have worked in museum education. I’m also very passionate about public service and giving back to the community, so when I found out about the position at the LCMM, it seemed made for me!
I’m very excited to be here, because there are so many opportunities for me to explore my varied interests. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum not only has a fascinating museum collection, but also full-sized replicas of several historic vessels, a blacksmith’s shop, boat-building facilities, and many educational programs that incorporate several of the above. These fantastic resources allow for hands-on, non-traditional education that can adapt to all learning styles, and can be especially helpful for learners for whom a traditional classroom setting isn’t ideal!

I wasn’t always passionate about museum education and archaeology, and it was only through community programs and educational opportunities that I was able to realize my interest in these topics. Now as an archaeologist, I’m especially looking forward to the Shipwreck Tours, which allow you to explore the many shipwrecks of Lake Champlain via ROV. Remote Operated Vehicles are very useful tools for underwater archaeology, so I’m also excited for our summer camps that allow kids to build or modify their own ROV – learn more about them here!

I look forward to helping young learners find their interests, expand their skills and knowledge, and discover the rich history of Lake Champlain!

Looking Forward to Summer Camp at LCMM!

11145015_10153422820861197_2599326938676101580_oIt’s March; children have settled into school routines and now are knee deep in schoolwork (although in past years they were knee deep in snow!). Warm summer days may still seem like a far off dream. But the truth is, it’s never too early to start looking forward to a carefree summer. For campers, as well as staff, summer camp is a magical experience that can never quite be put into words. Camp is where lifetime memories and lasting friendships are made.

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Lake Adventure Camps give our campers the opportunity to reconnect with nature. With so much entertaining technology at their fingertips, young adults are far less likely to unplug and head outside to form a connection with the environment. LCMM can inspire them to realize that going outside is worth the time. LCMM is located directly on beautiful Lake Champlain, surrounded by mountains in every direction.

10551500_10153428250471197_4089712625388495761_oIn today’s world, social media rules. Too many young people communicate with friends solely through texting and posting to Instagram. A large part of what makes summer camp so enjoyable is reconnecting with past camp friends and making new friends.  At LCMM these connections are made face-to-face. Anyone who has attended a Lake Adventure Camp will tell you, it’s like being part of one big extended family. Within that family, both staffers and campers get to share what they love and hone in on interpersonal skills that bind them together forever.

The most enticing thing about summer camp at LCMM is the freedom to explore. A camper can look forward to shedding the constraints of school and their never-ending homework when camp begins, yet learning doesn’t stop with the school year.  We present our campers with plenty of adventure and exploration-based learning opportunities, all while having fun.

With such a broad range of programs, and the different activities within each, campers can look forward to building on areas they know they are interested in, and also explore new ones. Whether exploring the waterfront by bike, searching the water depths with a snorkeling mask, or paddling and rowing while learning about boat safety, boat building and the history of boats on Lake Champlain, no camper will ever be bored. We also have camps designed around fascinating activities on land, such as blacksmithing and metal work. No matter what you are interested in, LCMM has something fun and exciting for everyone! Each camp provides space for young people to grow as individuals by getting to pursue their own interests.


NOW is the time to go sign up for a LCMM Lake Adventure Camp. Programs are filling and we want your children to have something great to look forward to—please see our website for the details. We look forward to seeing you this summer!  Click here to Register!

AmeriCorps at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum!

March marks a special new beginning for Lake Champlain Maritime Museum! This month is the official start of a new partnership forged between the Museum and the AmeriCorps. My name is Erin Sward, I am a 22-year-old University of Connecticut graduate, and the first AmeriCorps volunteer to join the LCMM team. I couldn’t be more delighted! In the short time I’ve been here it has already become clear that LCMM is far more than just a museum. I am the start of another way the LCMM is expanding their capacity to serve students.

I am an animal science major, so this is an opportunity for me to go out on a limb and try something new. What drew me here was the ecology, and the opportunity to work with kids on environmental education outside of the classroom setting.

My position is to be an integral part of the Museum’s various innovative educational programs. I am looking forward to helping implement the new adventure oriented after school programs at Vergennes Elementary School. I also can’t wait to be in the boat shop this semester providing support to the team boat-building program. I get to help learning impaired students from the Diversified Occupations Program of the Hannaford Career Center build a 32-foot traditional 19th century design wooden longboat. I am ecstatic to be trained as both a coach and a coxswain to support the nine different High School rowing programs that have after-school practice every week and rowing events at LCMM to provide a physical fitness outlet right here on Lake Champlain.

By far I am most excited for the summer months to arrive so I can work as an educator at the numerous summer camps the LCMM has to offer. I’m thrilled to engage in tons of on-water and underwater programs in nautical archaeology and especially lake ecology. There are so many opportunities in the coming months and I hope to make an impact on how Lake Champlain Maritime Museum provides unique learning experiences for youth that they will always remember.

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Receives Grant from Vermont Community Foundation to Partner with Vergennes Schools

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum received a grant of $20,000 from the Vermont Community Foundation’s Innovations and Collaborations program to expand education opportunities for elementary and middle school students at Vergennes Union Schools. “We are thrilled to receive the award,” says Mike Smiles, LCMM Executive Director.  “This grant allows the Museum to build its capacity to serve the Vergennes Schools’ innovative year-round after-school programs. The project is an important first step in redefining how the Museum can make a difference to students’ success through a maritime lens for learning. We are grateful to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent JoAn Canning, Mayor Bill Benton, and Board Superintendent Jeffry Glassberg for their vision of expanding opportunities through community partnerships.”

The Innovations and Collaborations grant program supports nonprofits to collaborate across issues and sectors to find new ways of working to develop shared solutions to community needs. According to the Vermont Community Foundation, in this round, 13 extraordinary projects that represent the very best of innovative nonprofit work in Vermont were chosen from a pool of 21 applicants for first year funding. The new project, dubbed “The STEAMSHIP Program,” will help Addison County youth meet state and local standards in core academic subjects (such as math, science, technology, engineering, English, arts, and social studies) while participating in a broad array of after school enrichment activities that complement their regular academic programs.

With the Maritime Museum students have a chance to build submersible robots out of PVC pipe, create their own documentary films, or learn chart making skills – all linked to their new Act 77 Personalized Learning Plans. It’s awesome!” said Jill Strube, who directs the Vergennes Schools’ FUSION after-school enrichment programs.

“We are excited to engage Vergennes students in expeditionary learning activities that connect them to the maritime history of Lake Champlain as a whole and, more specifically, to the deep maritime heritage of the City of Vergennes,” says LCMM’s Deputy Director Erick Tichonuk. “This new collaboration directly connects students to the Museum’s nautical archaeology program, educational curricula, and educators for in-depth learning through after-school programs.

Using LCMM’s experience in nautical archaeology, ship building, boat building, robotics, exhibit design, and primary source research as a framework, students will participate in team-oriented projects that will serve both as civic engagement and a celebration of learning through student-designed exhibits, original research and data collection, and 8th grade capstone presentations.

In 2012, Vergennes Union Middle and High School were inducted into the League of Innovative Schools with a goal to promote innovative strategies, to establish a network of best practices that is directly linked to 21st century learning, and to promote greater educational equity and opportunities for all students. The schools employ Expeditionary Learning, a program that puts emphasis on experiential learning.

The formal partnership between LCMM and VUS was initiated in the fall of 2015, when students built a SEAPERCH Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) used for underwater exploration. The results of this first semester can best be seen in this very short and exciting video of the students’ accomplishments:

Currently, students are working with LCMM videographer Kris Jarrett to produce a documentary on a Lake Champlain shipwreck. LCMM’s Deputy Director Erick Tichonuk recently met with after-school program coordinator Jill Strube to review partnership goals and plans for 2016. “Important goals for the project include greater involvement and accomplishments by individual students, and developing a program that can be a model for museums and other informal education partners working with schools throughout Vermont and beyond,” Tichonuk concludes.

Ecology Workshop at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

Leopard-Frog-MWLooking north to Quebec with a strong wind arriving cold in our teeth from the same direction, we were ready to net fish at 7:00am on October 2. The temperature there at Missisquoi Bay had barely topped forty degrees and we had to wade into Lake Champlain.

LCMM Ecology Programs Director Elizabeth Lee and I laughed off the chill, scoped the shaley shore for aquatic weeds among which fish might be lurking, and readied the 30-foot-long seine net. The water was brown as creamed coffee due to recent rains washing down the Missisquoi River. The puffs of white and brown cappuccino foam in the shallows belied the phosphorus that that river carries to the lake.

Given the challenges, and given that one session of our NOAA-funded “B-WET” training that day hinged on identifying fish, I invoked the freshwater spirits by calling into the 20-knot breeze: “Here, fishy-fishy!” Elizabeth looked amused but skeptical. Little did she know.


Searching-for-invertebrates-MWWe made two passes with the net, grateful for the neoprene waders that kept our legs warm. First run was okay – at least we caught something – a few small yellow perch and shiners. The second netting seemed at first to be similar, bringing us some baby bluegills and a bass and then, in the very bottom of the net… a larger fish flopping angrily, splashing water in our faces…a pike! More than a foot long. Total victory for a short fishing jaunt in the littoral zone. Into the bucket of water the fish went, to be hauled off to jail for a couple of hours at the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refugenature center, where the workshop was to be held, starting in only a half-hour.

We had a wide variety of educators filter in that morning: teachers from Lincoln and Hinesburg Elementary schools; from Essex High; an environmental educator from Sutton, Québec, who works in Eastern Township schools; and two environmental educators from Franklin County. During our morning coffee break, it came out that four of us could chat with each other in French, which is not atypical of a gathering so close to the border, n’est ce pas?

The Wildlife Refuge staff warmly welcomed us, inviting school groups to explore the wetland treasures at the refuge. We used a dichotomous key to identify our several fish species. The northern pike was the star of the show. From Erin De Vries of the UVM Watershed Alliance we learned about the “River Continuum” – how stream characteristics change as they run from small headwaters to lower in the Champlain Basin and finally into the lake. Erin also led a dabble with nets in man-made ponds just outside the nature center, sharing many suggestions for equipment, activities and curricula to use with students. Despite being the recipients of the building’s grey water, the ponds were hopping with life, from mayfly larvae to diving spiders. Kurt Valenta, who runs an educational water-critter-based program called “Bugworks” – created in 2008 by the Missisquoi River Basin Association – was on hand to help identify the invertebrates that we netted and also to share his enthusiasm for discovering who lived in the muck and reeds.

After a quick lunch, it was out to the main stem of the Missisquoi for a motor launch ride to the river bank near Cranberry Pool, an impounded marsh that favors waterfowl habitat. Expert birder and wetland ecologist Jake Straub from SUNY Plattsburgh gave us a sex talk – and other behaviors, of course – as far as geese and ducks go. As he spoke to us on the dike that holds water containing wild rice and many other valuable wetland plants, we saw ducks, grebes, kingfishers, and songbirds periodically take flight. In the distance we spied a giant eagle’s nest perched in a copse of sliver maples. Someone noticed that, near where we stood, there was evidence of a mortal drama. Feathers of various hues and stripes lay scattered on the grass. After close examination, Jake guessed that a predator – either a raptor or canine – had killed a wood duck here.

Rounding out the explorations of the unique habitat features in the “Birdfoot delta” area of the lower Missisquoi, we dragged a plankton net along the surface of the water on our return trip to our launch site, and looked at the tiny critters through a very basic field microscope – just a few copepods and strands of filamentous algae showed up. We also set out with hand nets to catch leopard frogs that leapt now and then along the river bank. Participants caught a total of seven specimens, examined them closely for deformations of digits and legs, and pronounced them all normal.

We’d like to think our fellow educators, stoked up that day to see and do so many activities that would ideally enthuse young people about aquatic ecosystems, will convey their energy and new tools to their students. We plan to be in touch with participants, and hope to learn which activities worked well with their classes. Some will probably take advantage of our “loaner kit” which we are assembling this winter to be available starting in the spring. The kit will include a number of tools we used during our B-Wet workshops including seine net, plankton net, field microscope, river corridor assessment protocols, and other aquatic data collection methods.

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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The 417 Boy Scouts of Three Rivers District

[slideshow]417 Boy Scouts from Vermont’s Three Rivers District took over the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum this past Saturday for a full day of fun, learning, and hands-on activities. These young men are from Chittenden, Franklin, Grand isle, and Western Lamoille counties in Vermont, and they had their Spring Camporee at Button Bay State Park, and with us! They toured the site, visited our Conservation Lab, stepped aboard the gunboat Philadelphia II, tried out the horse-powered ferry, and more:

Blacksmithing Courses Expert blacksmith instructors worked with scouts all day long. Blacksmith Brian Anderson demonstrated in the eighteenth century forge, and instructors Peter Wells and Bob Wetzel lead the scouts in making iron campsite pokers. (Those must have come in handy Saturday night when they were camping.)

Rowing More than 200 scouts got to try out LCMM’s pilot gigs on Lake Champlain. Working together as 6 or 8-person teams, they rowed these graceful and powerful wooden boats at our waterfront.

Woodworking LCMM volunteer John Tichonuk worked with scouts to try out traditional woodworking tools and techniques. They used tools like an auger, a draw knife, and a spoke shave.


ROV Demos LCMM uses this same Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to explore some of Lake Champlain’s 300 shipwrecks. Scouts got to see things up close and personal as we beamed the video to an inside screen.

Thanks to all our volunteers for making this a great day, and THANKS, Boy Scouts! We invite you to send us an email at or leave a comment below.

Got a Boy or Girl scout in your family? Bring him or her to LCMM – or bring the whole troop for a great field trip! Call (802) 475-2022 to schedule something exceptional!

Mount Abe High School’s visit to LCMM’s Conservation Lab

by Paul Gates

On April 11, students from Mount Abraham Union High School visited the Conservation Lab, eager to learn about the wonders of preservation.

Paul Gates talks about conservation techinques to students
Paul Gates talks about conservation techinques to students (photo: Tom Larsen)

As part of our mission here at LCMM we strive to educate the public about the importance of protecting our invaluable cultural resources. Lake Champlain is a non-salt water environment that is cold, dark, and has an anaerobic mud layer.  These qualities make it ideal for conserving all sorts of artifact material types, everything from wood, metals, glass, ceramics, and even organics.  Once these resources are removed they immediately start to degrade.  Valuable contextual information is inevitably lost when this happens.

Paul Gates demonstrating mechanical cleaning
Paul Gates demonstrating mechanical cleaning (photo: Tom Larsen)

In this dynamic world, cultural resources are in constant danger to being destroyed, lost, or stolen.  Archaeologists at LCMM serve as stewards for the protection and preservation of these amazing artifacts.  By examining, recovering, and conserving the artifacts contained within the lake we are effectively fulfilling our goals.  In doing this, we are able to present history in an exciting and awe-inspiring way.

It gives me a sense of honor, pride, and dare I say…makes me giddy to know that young adults like these have a vested interest in the archaeological world.  I cannot stress how important our collective history is.  I also want to highlight the need to spread awareness for it.  If you didn’t have the amount of enthusiasm that you showed me when you came here, then who knows what the fate of our past maybe.  So I tip my hat to you and wish you well, the world and our future needs more folks like yourselves!

Paul Gates
Paul grew up in Boise, ID and came to Vermont in 2003 for his undergrad degree in History and a minor in Archaeology with a focus on Medieval society and culture at UVM.  He started volunteering at LCMM in winter of 2008 as a Collections Management intern and then did intern work in the Conservation lab.  He joined the ranks of the paid staff in the winter of 2010.  He is currently the Assistant Chief for Charlotte Volunteer Rescue Squad and serves as a Board Member for the 1675 Foundation.