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Paddling, Early Settler Style

It’s almost certain that neither the Native Americans nor the early settlers sat on the banks of the Grand River some 200 years ago and lunched on single-serving bags of popcorn or juice boxes. But it is highly likely that they, like sixth-graders Eric Brunett and Ben Haley, spotted blue heron, scarlet tanager and Baltimore oriole as they paddled along.

Goodwillie sixth-graders Ben Haley, left, and Eric Brunett have lunch and display one of their class’ homemade paddles

“We also saw turtles, a pileated woodpecker and a plastic chair,” added Eric, who was traveling about a 10-mile stretch of the river with nearly two dozen of his classmates at Goodwillie Environmental School. Sixth-graders make the trip every year in a pair of birch bark canoes made by former Goodwillie students.

“We’re learning about the different parts of a canoe, the strokes and how to control it,” explained student Nastia Lychuk.

More than that, teacher Beth Dondit said, the trip culminates lessons in the area’s history and culture — including about Rix Robinson, a fur trader in the 1800s who is known as Ada’s first white settler. Ecological study by way of water quality testing and wildlife also were part of the journey.

One of a pair of homemade birch bark canoes pushes off from the Knapp Street boat launch along the Grand River



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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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