500-plus learn about river on 2023 Floating Classrooms. Fill out 2024 feedback form for chance to win
More than 500 combined people attended nine Floating Classrooms aboard the Hiawatha Paddleboat in Williamsport on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River with the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association in 2023.
The programs began with a cruise on June 13 focused on the rocks and geology of the river basin. It included a presentation by Central PA Rocks and Mineral Club President Andrew “Rockhound” Eppig on various types of rocks you can find in the watershed and another by Brittany Martin on the history of the river’s geology and how it has impacted the Susquehanna’s flow.
“I had the best classroom to teach geology to on this beautiful day,” said Martin afterward on her Facebook page. “Andrew Rockhound and I taught geology of the Susquehanna River to an amazing group of people of all ages on the Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat in Williamsport, PA!! So much fun!!!!!”
The second Floating Classroom of the season, held on July 11, involved Lycoming College’s Leslie Rieck and students from the Clean Water Institute presenting about common insects found around our waterways. This included species such as such as mayflies and dragonflies and their importance within the greater aquatic ecosystem.
On July 18, the Floating Classroom series welcomed back USGS biologist Vicki Blazer for a discussion about PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, a compound she has been studying in local fish. She reviewed where these compounds come from – including once common household materials like Teflon non-stick frying pans – what health issues they can cause and how prevalent they are in our river system.
“This is one of the real benefits of our Floating Classroom programs,” said Riverkeeper John Zaktansky. “Learning about some of the major pollutants impacting our river from one of the leading researchers studying our river while in a classroom on the river.”
During the same session, Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association summer intern Peyton Johnson offered a presentation on hydroponics and aquaponics in terms of sustainable growing and gardening. This included a take-home planting project for participants.
The Aug. 5 Floating Classroom program took a historic turn, looking at Native American artifacts found along waterways with advocational archeologist Kim Mattern, a curator with the Snyder County Museum. On the same cruise, Chuck Luppert shared interesting facts and history of logging in the Williamsport area, referencing some family stories as his grandparents were part of that culture until they moved to Tennessee.
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, Penn State University’s Jeremy Harper and Brandon Forsythe led a fish dissection presentation titled “The Secret Life Within our Fish” on the lower level of the Hiawatha using trout they brought from a local hatchery. Zaktansky led the upper level program dissection of STEM kits of frog and gecko molds, using best practice safety standards.
Susquehanna River Basin Commission biologist Johanna Hripto shared an overview of the American eel on the Sept. 12 Floating Classroom, bringing with her a bunch of young eels – or elvers – caught the day before at the Conowingo dam. Meanwhile, Zaktansky did a presentation on hellbenders after the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association’s announcement of a federal court win where the species will require additional research and another review to see if it requires new protections under the Endangered Species Act.
On Sept. 19, Susquehanna University Freshwater Research Institute Director Matt Wilson and some of his environmental education students presented information about trout, including identifying characteristics about the species, ideal habitat and research the group did recently on how the species reacts to drought conditions.
Finally, on Oct. 3, the series wrapped up with raptors, as DEP Regional Communications Manager Megan Lehman presented information about peregrine falcons, including info about a nest at the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters and the species successful return from near-extinction due to DDT. Upstairs, Environmental Education Leadership for Students (EELS) participant Fallon Emert offered an overview of raptors of the river system, looking at differences in beaks and talons and other distinguishing characteristics, wrapping up with a craft activity by Mama T’s Homestead.
“Students and guests got to see our homemade movable models of various beaks and foot designs for different birds in regards to their habitat,” said Tammy Emert, of Mama T’s Homestead via a Facebook post about the event afterward. “We made colorful abstract as well as true to nature colored hawk and owl masks – perfect for pretend play and Halloween.”
Planning for the 2024 season is underway.
We are encouraging people to provide feedback to help us prepare the best possible experience for next year’s sessions. Please fill out the survey available at this link – those that take the time to do so will be entered into a drawing for some free tickets to Floating Classrooms in 2024.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.