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  • Students launch their kayaks from Johnny Appleseed Park on Tuesday morning. About 120 students will participate over two days.(Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette)

  • A kayak trip down the St. Joseph River on Tuesday gave Northrop High School juniors a closer look at Fort Wayne's rivers and a lesson in their environmental and historic significance.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 1:00 am

Rivers turn classrooms

Northrop pupils learn history in kayak excursion

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

History teacher Andrew Wyss' lesson plan Tuesday could be summed up on a map.

The Northrop High School educator took his students out of the classroom and into the outdoors for a tour of historical and infrastructural sights between Johnny Appleseed Park and Fort Wayne Outfitters & Bike Depot on Cass Street.

Their vantage point, however, wasn't from land. The two groups of students – one in the morning, one in the afternoon – traveled the route by kayak.

The experience was “definitely something I won't forget,” junior Cheyenne Proffitt said after completing the roughly two-hour outing.

The journey, which will be repeated Thursday by two more classes, tied into classroom lessons, Wyss said. The city's founding, its Native American legacy and the importance of its rivers are among the topics he teaches.

Students traveled through the confluence of the rivers and past more than a dozen points of interest along the St. Joseph and St. Marys. Stevie's Island, Little Turtle's grave, the Rudisill Mill, Miami Village, the water filtration plant and the Old Fort were among sites labeled on route printouts.

The group included experienced kayakers and novices who either traveled solo or in pairs in what Wyss described as user-friendly boats from Fort Wayne Outfitters.

“They handled it great and did great,” he said after the first session.

Representatives from Historic Fort Wayne and the Allen County Partnership for Water Quality also participated by sharing information with students.

Traveling the rivers was a great way for students to experience what people have been doing – paddling the waters – since before recorded history, said Matt Jones, a water resource education specialist. Getting people to care about the waterways is easier once they experience them, he said.

Out of breath after hauling a kayak out of the St. Marys River, Devon Forsyth stood with classmate Jacob Walker on a grassy slope as more classmates arrived at the destination. The juniors recapped the excursion, saying that talks near the water filtration plant prompted them to remove litter and other debris from the river.

Proffitt – who ended the journey soaked, in need of a bath and with numb fingers from her tight grip on the paddle – said the trip was “definitely worth it.”

Wyss didn't hesitate when asked whether he would repeat the outdoor lesson for future classes. “Absolutely,” he said.