The Lake Hopatcong Foundation (LHF) recently launched its newest initiative – a floating classroom. The custom-built 40-foot education vessel, named ‘Study Hull’, gives students an interactive, hands-on education experience to explore Lake Hopatcong, learn about freshwater ecology, and learn how to protect the watershed.
During its maiden voyage field trip, which was held on May 21, fourth-graders from Nixon Elementary and Kennedy Elementary schools utilized the boat’s laboratory instruments to study water hydrology, temperatures, plankton, and dissolved oxygen levels. They performed a series of tests and experiments designed to help them learn about the general health of the lake. They used Secchi Disks to determine the depth to which light is able to penetrate the water’s surface. They also learned about runoff and nonpoint source pollutants, how to protect the lake’s water quality, and how to be good stewards of the water.
Princeton Hydro helped the LHF design a teaching curriculum on water quality. Dr. Jack Szczepanski, Senior Aquatics Scientist, and Christopher L. Mikolajczyk, CLM, Senior Project Scientist, trained the staff and volunteers on the curriculum and demonstrated various water quality monitoring techniques that can be conducted with the students.
“We’re really proud to be a part of this exciting initiative,” said Mikolajczyk. “It’s really important to get kids interested in science at an early age and teach them about their surrounding environment – where their drinking water comes from, how it gets polluted, the impacts pollution has on the lake’s ecosystem, and what steps can be made to protect the lake’s water quality. We’re hoping the floating classroom field trip program will make a lasting, valuable impression with these kids.”
In the first year of operation it is expected that the Study Hull will host 1,000 fourth grade students. The long-term goal is to develop lesson plans for students in every grade from kindergarten through high school. Starting in July, the LHF is also offering the public tours of the floating classroom on Mondays at Hopatcong State Park.
The purchase of the floating classroom was made possible by financial support from USATODAY Network’s “A Community Thrives” program, which awarded the LHF with a $50,000 grant. The program recognizes three categories: arts and culture, education, and wellness. In each category, the first place winner received a $100,000 grant and the second and third place winners received $50,000 grants. The James P. Verhalen Family Foundation and the Szigethy Family also provided significant donations to help bring the floating classroom to life.
The LHF and Princeton Hydro are longtime partners. Starting back in 1983, Princeton Hydro’s Dr. Stephen Souza conducted the USEPA funded Diagnostic Feasibility study of the lake and then authored the Lake Hopatcong Restoration Plan. That document continues to be the backbone of why and how to restore the lake, manage the watershed, reduce pollutant loading, and address invasive aquatic plants and nuisance algae blooms.
Lake Hopatcong has one of the longest, continuous, long-term ecological databases in New Jersey; almost 30 years of consistently collected water quality data. The data is crucial in assessing the overall ecological health of the lake and proactively guiding its management, identifying and addressing emerging threats, documenting project success (a mandatory element of funding initiatives) and confirming compliance with New Jersey State Water Quality standards.
Princeton Hydro’s most recent work for Lake Hopatcong includes the implementation of green infrastructure stormwater management measures, installation of floating wetland islands to improve water quality, and invasive aquatic plant species management programs, community educational training, and surveys.