Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Paddling helps students learn

River outing's lessons are many, varied

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Almost 60 Sands Montessori students listened intently Tuesday as Gary Morgan explained how their rocky beach was created by water rushing from Fort Ancient into the Little Miami River.

        Above them on a bluff was a home of ancient Indian tribes, possibly a religious site, possibly a defensive position, he told them.

        “Two weeks ago,” he continued, “I found a perfect arrowhead on this beach, right where you're standing.”

        Tactical mistake.

        Youngsters, parents and teachers edged away to look for perfect arrowheads.

        Mr. Morgan, their host for a rafting introduction to Little Miami geology and archaeology, regained their attention, then sent them looking for fossils in stones “spit out” by rushing water.

        It was another day in Adventures in Learning, a floating classroom put on by Morgan's Canoe & Outdoor Centers in Warren County's Fort Ancient. Last year, Sands students did the “eco-float” that focused on what lives in the Little Miami.

        Mr. Morgan said parents pay the $20 fee for many students, with his firm or Global Rivers Environmental Education Network subsidizing others.

        Sixth-grader Janet Burton, 13, was one of the first to come up with a fossil. “I'm going to take it home, wash it and put it on my dresser.”

        Matthew Goodrich, 14, another sixth-grader, proudly showed his find to teacher David Gray.

        “Boy, that's just filled with them,” the math and science teacher exulted as he turned over the fossil-rich rock and described the incised images for the attentive youth.

        That done, and just as Mr. Gray hunkered down to look for his own prizes, parent Jay Wilford presented him with a “well-gnawed” deer rib.

        The day began midmorning with a brief introduction to inflated rafts, paddles and life jackets, a safety lecture and a 90-second course on how to paddle by Mr. Morgan, general manager and co-owner of the family firm, and Cheryl Brinker, a river guide and Sands mom.

        Each raft had at least two adults, and for the first mile or so, they and the students worked on paddling in unison, forward and backward, and found they could steer the slow-moving boats.

        Periodically, they brought the rafts together, and Mr. Morgan or Ms. Brinker gave a brief talk on Adena or Hopewell Indian culture along the Little Miami.

        In addition to edible wild plants and planted corn, Indians relied on “fish and clams and mussels and turtles out of the river,” Ms. Brinker said. “This whole area is like a supermarket.”

        Coincidentally, they drifted by a half-submerged sycamore on which a large snapping turtle lay.

        Inspired, Ms. Brinker launched into myriad uses Indians put turtle parts to after eating the meat. “They were not wasters,” she said.

        Then the rafts drifted apart again, each crew looking for something special — Canada geese and goslings, turtles or snakes, wood ducks or deer tracks.

        More than once, geese honked belligerent warning as paddlers brought their rafts near shore.

        After about 2 miles and one hour of paddling and exploring from the water, Mr. Morgan brought rafters to the rocky beach jutting into the river.

        “When we hit the beach, I want the first two guys to jump out and grab the raft and haul it up,” he told his crew. “The rest of you, help the other rafts.”

        Boats secured and audience assembled, Mr. Morgan drew attention to the 19th century stone railroad bridge under which rushing water still flows during rains, rebuilding the beach.

        Under the bridge and 50 yards up the creek, the party fanned out to find something.

        A few youngsters realized an apparent lump of mud was a stock-still frog — but when their curiosity overcame their discretion, the amphibian fled.

        Another student found some critter's eggs adhering to the underside of a rock, and after showing it around, he replaced the stone where he found it in the creek, eggs otherwise undisturbed.

        Then it was time to return to the rafts and head downstream for lunch, and Janet Burton, her hands filled with fossils, picked her way over slippery rocks.

        Her progress was complicated by a long, carelessly wielded scouring rush that threatened to poke out an eye.

        “Hey, careful,” the student with the bamboolike stalk said as she brushed it aside. “This is a living fossil.”


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