On June 14th, 2011, eight high school students set off on an adventure that was the first of its kind. Their journey took them from the headwaters of the Brandywine River in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, to its mouth in Wilmington, Delaware. They hiked and canoed the length of the river, camped under the stars, and lived simply on the land.
- They sought to understand the importance of the river to their own community and all the other communities in the Brandywine Valley.
- They wanted to learn about the benefits it provides — drinking water and hydropower, food and fertile soil for farmers, transportation and recreation, and a landscape as beautiful as any in the world.
- And in the process, they hoped to become the spokespeople for a river that sustains the lives of everyone who lives in its watershed.
The students, who all attend Coatesville area schools, prepared for the trek by attending spring workshops in which they learned skills ranging from how to assess the quality of stream water to how to take photographs that tell a story, from how to live and work as a team to camping, canoeing and fishing. They also learned about the history of this fabled river — which is the location of one of the major battles of the American Revolution, the home of three generations of Wyeths and the Brandywine School of art, and the original site of both DuPont, the world’s third largest company, and Lukens, the oldest steel company in America.
On the trek, the students put their new knowledge to work by exploring the river and its watershed. Along the way they met with scientists, conservationists, historians, park rangers, and farmers — both to learn more about the river and to report on what they have found. Their goal is to become the spokespeople for the Brandywine and to bring public attention to the importance of protecting its water and the land that feeds it. Throughout the trek, the students gauged the quality of the water, documented with journals and photographs all they were experiencing, and hosted press conferences to share with the public what they were learning. When the trek is over, the students’ work will not be done, as they will go home to Coatesville to design and lead a community stewardship project.
A Healthy Brandywine — For All of Us
This relatively small river connects a surprising diversity of people and communities.
The Brandywine runs through Chester and New Castle counties, two of the most affluent regions in America, as well as through Coatesville, one of Pennsylvania’s poorest cities. As it winds its way to Wilmington through beautiful and productive countryside, it should remind us that we are all connected, for its waters sustain life throughout the region. And whatever people do anywhere in the watershed affects the water we drink everywhere in the watershed. As the saying goes, “we all live downstream.”
Our goal is that the Brandywine Trek will be the catalyst that inspires the students to become directly involved in efforts to protect their river and to revitalize their city. After a journey of discovery that has challenged them physically, intellectually, and emotionally, they will return home with a new understanding of their responsibility for the river, their community, their upstream and downstream neighbors, and each other. And they will have the knowledge to put this new sense of ownership into practice and the desire to inspire you to do the same.
Stay tuned for their post-trek projects and for ways you can help your river!
In the fall of 2012, you will be able to view an exhibition of their photographs and journal entries at several locations within the Brandywine Valley.