LAKE WYLIE -- For most people, sitting in class usually means a desk, pencil and notebook. Not for two Brevard College professors and 11 students. They sat atop 220 miles of flowing water, trading in pencil and paper for paddles and personal flotation devices.
The Brevard College Voice of the Rivers 2009 expedition began May 16 from Lake Rhodhiss, as the group began paddling the Catawba River to Charleston. Robert Dye, assistant professor of wilderness leadership and experiential education and co-leader of the expedition, chose the Catawba as it was named the "most endangered river" in the United States by American Rivers in 2008.
Training began in April with a weekend trip to Lake James for paddling instruction and Linville, North Carolina, to see the head waters. The Catawba River consists of eleven lakes from the head waters to the sea, and the Voice of the Rivers 2009 team took two courses along the route. Dye taught river conservation, and co-leader Kristina Holland taught survival literature. Students on the expedition earned six credit hours while enjoying an extraordinary experiential learning opportunity.
Much of the concern for the Catawba lies in the fact that the lakes are highly developed with many power plants located on the shores, and environmental issues such as runoff have become a concern as development of much of the shoreline continues. On May 22, students began reflection of their experience on Lake Wylie. Connections between the cleanliness of the water and the amount of the shoreline development were obvious as the students paddled across Lake Rhodhiss, Lake Hickory, Lake Shores, Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie.
C.D. Collins, Lake Wylie Covekeeper, hosted the group at his home for the night, and students learned about runoff from many forms of development including commercial parking lots, shoreline construction and construction upstream. In addition, other forms of environmental concern also were discussed with the students such as various risks and impacts from power plants such as Allen Steam Plant, which the students saw while paddling earlier in the afternoon.
While Collins enjoyed sharing his expertise, he most enjoyed meeting young people who are passionate about their water sources.
"It was just a wonderful, informative evening," Collins said. "It renewed my faith in the young people of America."
Brevard College Junior Jay Wolfe called his hour-long discussion with Collins one of the highlights not only of his trip, but of his entire time in school.
"That was the most informative hour of our trip thus far, maybe the most informative of all of my time in college," he said.
And while the students' participation in the trip already showed that they care about natural resources, Collins could see from the evening hosting campers just how seriously they took the issue.
"These were the nicest young people I've seen in a long, long time," Collins said. "When they left the next morning, you could not tell people had been here."
The trip finished June 2 after 18 days on the water. Typical days, Dye said, included breakfast at 6 a.m., four to five hours of paddling, dinner, two hours of class and bed by 9 p.m.
"As a professor I'd like to think they learned all sorts of stuff," Dye said. "I think the main lesson everyone learned was the importance of being better stewards of the environment. And the importance of working together. Everywhere that there was someone with big successes at that, it was a collaborative effort."
Last year a group traveled the Savannah River, and a possible future trip could be planned for the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta. The Catawba run featured experienced paddlers and beginners alike, with each student keeping a daily journal.
"We had some hard days," Dye said. "One of the biggest challenges was just finding a place to stay. Almost all of the land around the water is private."
Information from the trip, including a blog with journal entries and information on the travelers, is available at brevard.edu/vor.