Photograph by Michael Petrus
The Learning Barge
The Learning Barge is a unique, completely sustainable vessel that serves as a classroom for environmental education and a working platform for the remediation efforts of the Elizabeth River Project. The Barge operates on the Elizabeth River, the most polluted tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Initiated in the spring of 2006, the project was designed and built by the University of Virginia with the help of several collaborators.
The Barge is a demonstration tool for sustainable technologies: energy is harvested from eight photovoltaic panels and two wind turbines, radiant heat in the winter is provided by a solar thermal system using evacuated tubes, and water is collected from the roof and filtered for hand washing. The Barge has been constructed with selective material choices and also contains an active biofiltration system in the form of an onboard wetland.
The vessel provides interactive K-12 and adult education about how river ecology and human activities are inextricably linked. Unlike environmental education centers located in pristine “nature,” the Barge traverses an important urban river and major world port. The moveable Learning Barge will stop at ongoing restoration sites on the Elizabeth River for a few months at a time, with each site demonstrating particular conditions and lessons about the River. The Learning Barge is a Coast Guard certified attraction vessel.
I served as Project Manager from September 2007 until the end of construction in the fall of 2009. I also worked with the Elizabeth River Project on the initial commissioning of the vessel through its first season (September - December 2009) and on the production of an art catalogue, funded by a NEA grant, showcasing student work completed during the first operational season of the Barge. Since the launch of the Learning Barge in the fall of 2009, the vessel has welcomed nearly 40,000 students and visitors.
For more about the Barge in operation, see the Elizabeth River Project's website.
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Click on a image to explore onboard stories and personal accounts about the Learning Barge.