One of the state’s newest science classrooms is uniquely suited for water testing and studying plankton under a microscope. But you’ll need a life vest!
This spring, the “Study Hull,” a 40-foot pontoon boat outfitted with a laboratory, was launched by the nonprofit Lake Hopatcong Foundation after years of planning. The custom-made floating classroom cruises up and down Lake Hopatcong, providing field trips for schoolchildren and summer ecological cruises for all ages.
“The response from the public has been great,” said Donna McCalle-Holly, grants and program coordinator for the Lake Hopatcong Foundation. “We’re really pleased with how things have gone during our first season, and interest is already picking up for next year.”
The Foundation has been working for years to protect the lake’s environment. “But the best thing we can do for the future of Lake Hopatcong is educate the next generation and the public about how to take care of it,” noted Foundation president Jessica K. Murphy. “And what better way to conduct those lessons than on the lake itself?”
So far, the Study Hull has hosted field trips for about 700 students and ecology cruises for another 200 people. It’s staffed largely by volunteers, mostly retired teachers and high school students from Morris County’s Academy for Environmental Science.
The Study Hull isn’t the only floating classroom in New Jersey. In a state bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Hudson River, Delaware River and Delaware Bay, there’s a long history of encouraging an interest in ecology and protecting the environment by getting people on the water.
Here are some of New Jersey’s other floating classrooms:
- The Delaware River Steamboat floating classroom operates from a dock in Lambertville, Hunterdon County. It’s called “SPLASH,” which stands for Student Participation in Learning Aquatic Science & History. Students aboard SPLASH learn about the Delaware watershed and ways to protect it, the importance of “river critters” (macroinvertebrates), the chemistry of the river and the balance needed to sustain life, and the environmental history of the Delaware River.
- A longtime favorite in northern New Jersey are the pontoon boat tours offered by the Hackensack Riverkeeper. Captain Bill Sheehan started Eco-Cruises in 1994 to increase public awareness of the lower Hackensack River as a vital natural resource. Since then, more than 50,000 people have cruised through the Meadowlands – places most often viewed from cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. The amazing variety of wildlife is best seen from the water.
- The restored oyster schooner A.J. Meerwald – the state’s official tall ship – is docked mainly at the Bayshore Center at Bivalve on the Delaware Bay in Cumberland County. The Center’s mission is to inspire people to take care of the history, the culture and the environment of the Bayshore region. The A.J. Meerwald offers special summer camps and cruises aimed at connecting children with the environment.
- On the Hudson River, the famous sloop Clearwater’s environmental mission provides educational sails for kids and adults. Folk singer and activist Pete Seeger launched the Clearwater in 1969 to clean up the Hudson River, and it has become a flagship for environmental education. The Clearwater sails from several Hudson River ports, including Alpine in Bergen County.
- In the Great Egg Harbor in Atlantic County, a fishing boat called the Duke O Fluke offers weekly eco-tours with a naturalist from the Wetlands Institute. In the fall, the Duke O Fluke has special raptor cruises on the Great Egg Harbor River in search of resident bald eagles, hawks, ospreys and falcons.
For an on-deck experience learning about the ecology of New Jersey’s rivers, lakes, bays and ocean, try a trip in a floating classroom. The fresh air and sunshine are relaxing – and the lessons are unforgettable.
To learn about the new Lake Hopatcong floating classroom, go to https://lakehopatcongfoundatio n.org/what-we-do/education/ floating-classroom/.
For information about the Delaware River Steamship floating classroom, visit www.steamboatclassroom.org/. To learn about Hackensack Riverkeeper eco-cruises, go to www.hackensackriverkeeper.org/ activities-and-events/eco-crui ses/. For the A.J. Meerwald, go to https://bayshorecenter.org/. For the Clearwater, go to https://www.clearwater.org/. And for the Great Egg Harbor cruises, go to http://www.dukeofluke.com/natu re-tours.html.
And to learn about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Morristown.