(Courtesy James River Association, Virginia Gazette / June 22, 2014)

Canoes replaced desks for local students embarking on a "floating classroom" summer expedition.

Thirty teens from 17 Virginia high schools will collectively travel all 340 miles of the James River over the course of three eight-day trips. They will captain canoes, bateaux, rafts and work boats and will camp on the riverbank each night.

Students visit small towns and cities along the James River as they study local history and ecology. They'll tour riverside farms, industrial facilities, power stations and wastewater treatment facilities. They also participate in a variety of activities such as testing water-quality, sampling macro-invertebrates and identifying wildlife.

Parker Hula, 16, of Jamestown High School, paddled from Iron Gate to Snowden on the first segment. "It was fantastic," he said. "I loved the canoeing in general, especially the white water."

Hula recently moved from Alaska and decided to take part in the expedition to learn more about Virginia geography and history. He said he enjoyed lessons on trains and fish, but the most challenging aspect of the trip was also the best: meeting new people.

"The first two days were kind of awkward because you don't know anybody," he said with a laugh. "But sharing tents fixed that, and I made so many new friends. We all plan to stay in touch."

Hula said he intends to apply for the position of student intern next year, where he would help staff lead the summer 2015 expedition.

Segment two departs July 12 and Riley Smith, 15, also of Jamestown High School, can hardly wait. "I really like meeting new people," she said. "The fact I'll be with people I don't know is so exciting."

Smith said she's not nervous and has been canoeing and camping before, though never more than three days. "My dad is actually building a canoe right now," she said. "He got me into it."

She wanted to go on the James River Expedition so badly she became anxious in the weeks leading up to finding out the status of her acceptance.

"I'm just excited to try something new," she said, imagining the trip will be the biggest adventure of her summer, so far.

This is the fourth expedition organized by The James River Association and sponsored by The Dominion Foundation.

More – http://jamesriverassociation.org/expedition