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Mar. 26, 2019
8:30 am


Floating classroom moves to River Fork

By Jane Harrison
The move of a floating classroom to River Forks Park opens up new opportunities for students to explore islands, coves and the nearby juncture of two main rivers that form Lake Lanier. Students aboard the Chota Princess II will see the lake spread out before them on eco-tours departing regularly from the Hall County park beginning March 9.
The custom-built 40-foot catamaran provided by Chattahoochee Riverkeeper takes students for hands-on scientific expeditions in Elachee Nature Science Center’s Aquatic Studies Program. The educational venture originally launched from Clarks Bridge Park in 2000 and moved to Aqualand Marina 15 years ago. It has put about 5,000 students a year on the water taking plankton samples, collecting sediment and testing dissolved oxygen levels.
When Aqualand was sold last year, Elachee and Riverkeeper sought a new launch site, one with a dock, on-shore shelter, and restrooms. Hall County stepped up. Commissioners approved an agreement with the two organizations to base the Chota at the park near the union of the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers.
“They said they wanted the program to stay in Hall County,” reported Peter Gordon, Elachee education director. Citizen scientists from area schools, children’s organizations, colleges, summer camps and church groups participate in the program. For some, it is their first time ever on Lake Lanier.
River Forks “is a terrific and convenient spot for the schools in Hall County and adjacent counties, plus it’s a beautiful facility,” Gordon said. However, the park near Gainesville lacked a boat slip fitting for a princess. Riverkeeper began exploring funding opportunities and talking with potential donors to build a covered double boat slip, according to Jason Ulseth, head of CRK. Marine Specialties, Inc., of Gainesville, was expected to complete the dock before the first voyage from River Forks this month.
Students will embark on one hour, 15 minute tours piloted by local US Coast Guard licensed captains and instructed by Elachee staff and naturalists. Ulseth, a licensed captain, also occasionally hosts special programs and lake tours on the Chota.
“We’ll stay in the general vicinity of River Forks,” said Gordon, which is not as deep as the Chota’s former home waters close to Buford Dam. “It’s closer to the north side of the lake … there are lots of wonderful coves to explore, the main channel, and islands with wildlife viewing opportunities. There are a lot of things we will discover and the lake opens up in front of your eyes,” he said.
Gordon pointed out an additional advantage of the new location: its proximity to the Flat Creek Water Reclamation Facility. Wastewater treatment “is something a lot of boys and girls don’t know about,” he said. “High school groups are fascinated with it.” Gordon envisions tour groups spending half their field trip on the water and half touring the treatment plant. “It’s an extraordinary place to visit.”
The Chota’s new home on the Chattahoochee channel of Lake Lanier seems a natural fit. The boat is named for the Cherokee word for the Chattahoochee River. Its situation near inflow of Chestatee River may contribute more water quality data about the portion of the lake cited by environmental officials as one of the most polluted sections of Lanier. 

Posted online 2/26/18
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