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The 2015 James River Expedition began June 27 on the Upper James, and completed their journey July 3. (Courtesy James River Association)
The 2015 James River Expedition began June 27 on the Upper James, and completed their journey July 3. (Courtesy James River Association)

While their colleagues are relaxing during their summer vacations, three students from the Historic Triangle are spending a week exploring one of the country’s most historic rivers.

Williamsburg area high school students Hannah Bono, Miles Childers and Sean Kotrola are participating in the 2015 James River expedition.

Sponsored by Dominion Resources and organized by the James River Association, the annual program takes students on a journey by kayak down the James as they learn about the river’s ecology and history.

The 2015 expedition divides the river into three sections, with the local students participating in two of them. Bono, a rising sophomore at Providence Classical School, and Childers, a rising junior at Lafayette High School completed the first section of the expedition July 3, traveling from Buchanan County to Big Island in northern Bedford County. Kotrola, a rising junior at Jamestown High School began his trip July 11, and is halfway through the expedition’s second leg from Lynchburg to Cartersville.

During the expedition, the participating students balance the physical exertion of traveling the river and making camp with the field work that makes up the trip’s educational aspect.

Students rotate through a schedule of jobs, including cook, reporter and scientist, over the course of the trip, and perform scientific experiments, like checking water quality and oxygen levels in the river water.

“You have to wake up early, depending on your job,” Childers said. “You might have to pack up the whole kitchen. You’re always working.”

For Childers, the expedition was a physically demanding experience. His party covered 7 to 15 miles of the river every day in boats weighed down by the supplies necessary for the weeklong expedition. The weather was also a factor, with this summer’s heavy rainfall causing delays.

“We couldn’t canoe one day, so we had to skip the entire day,” Childers said. “We just spent the rest of the day hanging out.”

The trip could also be hazardous at times.

“We had a few injuries,” Childers said. “Some of us flipped over in the kayaks and got really big cuts.”

In his downtime, Childers got to know his expedition mates, learned new paddle strokes, fished and played games like Frisbee and football.

Childers said he does not see a future in natural resources for himself, but said the expedition was a worthwhile experience.

“I’m not really thinking about a career in the environment, but I think it’s something we all need to be aware of.”

That same sentiment led Kotrola to participate in the program.

“I really liked the idea of learning about the river and how to help preserve it,” he said.

Before he left for the expedition, Kotrola said he was preparing physically for the journey.

“We’re going to be out there camping for eight days, and there’s not always access to showers,” he said. “The hardest part will be the physical part, because we have to get up and paddle the whole time.”

Although it will be challenging, Kotrola said he is looking forward to the journey.

“I’m excited about the camping aspect because I really like camping, but I’m also excited for actually being out on the river and seeing it,” he said. “I hope to come out with more of an appreciation for the river than I do now.”

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