Wednesday, Jun 29, 2016
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Matt Markey

Lakes study a great opportunity

Brig Niagara offers students a class in a floating classroom

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The Brig Niagara will travel all five of the Great Lakes and make stops in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

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At the considerable risk of sounding like a grumpy old guy who walked four miles through the snow to get to school every day — where were the educational opportunities like this when I was in college?

Students with an interest in the Great Lakes and the many intricate environmental and policy issues surrounding those precious bodies of water can apply for enrollment in a three-week course this summer that will take them across the lengthy Great Lakes system aboard the tall ship Brig Niagara.

The vessel is a replica of the flagship of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet from the Battle of Lake Erie, which took place in the War of 1812. You won’t be engaging Commander Robert Heriot Barclay and the British fleet in a raging battle as Perry did, but instead you will be in a floating college classroom where hands-on lake science is the curriculum.

The ship will travel all five of the Great Lakes and make stops in ports in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. There will be a two-day stop at Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory, which is in Put-in-Bay harbor on Gibraltar Island, a vantage point Perry used to watch for the British. OSU is partnering with Penn State and Niagara University to offer this unique course.

A portion of the course includes sailing the vessel and experiencing life on board this authentic wooden naval warship, which in Perry’s time held a crew of 155 and featured a pair of long guns as well as 18 carronades, or short-range cannons.

You won’t be required to fire the guns or make hurried repairs to your battle-scarred ship on the open water of Lake Erie as Perry’s men did while their commander was scribbling off that infamous note to his superior, General William Henry Harrison, Army of the Northwest:

Dear General:

We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.

Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry

For this summer course, no prior sailing experience is required, but instructor Bill Edwards expects all hands on deck, within their comfort level. Edwards is an assistant professor of biology at Niagara and his studies relating to the Great Lakes have included invasive species, plankton ecology, eutrophication, and toxicology.

While on board the Niagara, Edwards expects the students to challenge themselves in this very unusual learning environment while studying the varied Great Lakes ecosystems, conducting water samples, trawling for fish, and dissecting the catch, while also encountering a wide range of wildlife.

This is lake science, from a 24-hour-a-day, 360 degree perspective.

Students should expect to get wet and dirty, but also come away with some things you can’t learn in a classroom. There is an emphasis on teamwork, discipline, and communication, much like Perry demanded from his sailors when they battled the British in Lake Erie in September, 1813.

Students from any college or university are eligible to apply for the course, which runs from July 11-31. Credit is available from the sponsoring schools, at both the graduate and undergraduate level. The course is also open to nonstudents interested in an educational experience on the lakes.

The application deadline is March 19, and interested parties can apply at: stonelab.osu.edu/applynow or get additional information from the OSU Stone Lab at 419-285-1800.

It sounds like a tremendous way to spend a few weeks this summer, learn the lakes, trim the jib, and develop a new level of respect for those men who joined Perry out on Lake Erie 200 years ago.

A familiarity with the use of Dramamine probably wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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