The LEARNING BARGE is a unique "green" vessel that was designed and constructed with the river's health in mind. The Elizabeth River is one of the most polluted rivers on the Chesapeake Bay and runs through the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach with over 500,000 citizens living in her watershed. The barge concept came about with a partnership that began in 2006 between The University of Virginia School (UVA) of Architecture and The Elizabeth River Project's (ERP). UVA's design along with 100 UVA student volunteers, generous donors and ERP's educational vision completed the world's first floating wetlands classroom, The LEARNING BARGE.
The LEARNING BARGE, 120' x 32' steel deck hull is unlike any other classroom in the world. The barge design symbolizes the marriage of a working harbor and a living ecosystem. The barge is Coast Guard certified as an attraction vessel and educational features include a floating wetland nursery, power systems run by sun and wind, compost toilets, hand-washing stations that use rain water, a 16' x 16' seining pool, oyster floats, habitat cubes, underwater camera and an enclosed classroom.
September 14, 2009, ERP's LEARNING BARGE was christened by Princess Elizabeth, a.k.a. Robin Dunbar, the Education Director stating, "this vessel carries a heavy load of our hopes and dreams for a river restoration that will make her fishable and swimmable by the year 2020." Dunbar's education vision was to create an "out of the box" sustainable program that offers hands-on, activities that teach how to help make the river safe for swimming and fishing. Dunbar wanted to excite students and teachers about the river resulting in an army of "River Rangers" stewards protecting their home river, The Elizabeth. All activities reflect the Virginia Standards of Learning. Lead Science Coordinators of the four river cities public schools serve as advisors.
Over 10,000 students and citizens have been aboard learning what they can do to support the Elizabeth River's restoration. The goal is to inform, inspire and engage all ages to help make the river safe for swimming and fishing. The barge will teach "how to" do right by the river.
Hands-on activities stimulate the students' senses and sparked curiosity about the natural world. With the Elizabeth River as a living laboratory, children learn "by doing". Students dig in the mud, identify native plants, have close encounters with river life, study the site for wildlife and habitat with binoculars, gather data, perform water quality tests, search for answers, ask questions, sing river songs, shout environmental messages, work in small groups, create art, expand vocabulary, learn stewardship activities and celebrate as one.
Made possible by: Dominion Virginia Power, Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation, Virginia Environmental Endowment, Environmental Protection Agency, The Elizabeth River Project, The University of Virginia School of Architecture and more.