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Floating Classroom Serves Its 50,000th Student

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

National Park News

The 50,000th student boarded the riverboat Anson Northrup in late September for a “Big River Journey” to learn about the science, heritage, and stewardship of the Mississippi River.  During the field trip, over one hundred 4th to 6th grade students cruised the Mississippi River between Saint Paul, Minnesota and Fort Snelling State Park at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. They could barely contain their enthusiasm as they engaged with science learning stations onboard and on land.

Students used binoculars and microscopes to explore the natural life of the river – from bugs to birds to otters. They examined rocks to understand how a waterfall once greater than modern-day Niagara Falls carved the river valley and set the stage for the Twin Cities to be located where they are. They visited the pilot house to learn what it takes to be a riverboat pilot, and they learned about water pollution and how to prevent it. From the historic riverboat landing that once served Fort Snelling, they continued their explorations with naturalists from Fort Snelling State Park and a costumed soldier from the fort.

Begun fifteen years ago and led by the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MISS), Big River Journey is a partnership with eight other organizations. Co-founders of the program include the Padelford Packet Boat Co., the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Science Museum of Minnesota. Additional partners now include the Minnesota Historical Society, the Center for Global Environmental Education at Hamline University, the Friends of the Mississippi River, the Saint Paul Public Schools and the Mississippi River Fund. Some partners support classroom activity components, while others assist on the field trips. Each year approximately forty cruises are offered for 4,500 students.

The Big River Journey field trip is just the beginning for the students, whose involvement with the river subject matter typically extends six weeks or more. “Back in the classroom students continue their science explorations, but with more interest after finding it to be relevant and fun on Big River Journey,” said Paul Labovitz, MISS Superintendent. “They also write, read and create art for the Big River Art Contest, with winning art displayed at the Science Museum – where it’s viewed by tens of thousands of people.”  Many students conduct service learning projects.

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area extends 72 miles through Minneapolis and St. Paul to the Mississippi’s confluence with the Saint Croix River. The National Park Service works with partners and local governments to care for the river’s nationally significant resources – including natural areas and historic sites, as well as recreational and economic assets. For further information about Big River Journey and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, click on the link below.


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