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Student's exploration of Chesapeake cut short by Hurricane Felix Westminster teen-ager, 15 others had to quit before bad weather hit


Jennifer Wilson expected an interesting, exciting experience in two weeks of canoeing, camping and studying the Chesapeake Bay during the summer.

But the 13-year-old Westminster area resident never thought she'd be part of the first Chesapeake Bay Foundation student group to have its trip cut short by a hurricane.

Jennifer, an eighth-grader at East Middle School, and 15 other students from across the state were spending the final days of their trip on Smith Island when Hurricane Felix headed toward Cape Hatteras.

The schedule called for the students to canoe to Shanks Island, a nesting ground for terns and pelicans, Thursday, Aug. 17.

They would have camped overnight, returned to Smith Island on Friday and gone out on a workboat.

On Saturday, Aug. 19, the group would have returned to the mainland to meet their parents.

But Smith Island was evacuated Wednesday, Aug. 16. The foundation has had to cancel student trips in the past because of storms and bad weather, but this was the first hurricane evacuation in the program's 17-year history, said Sarah V. Preston, the foundation's education coordinator.

The island wasn't completely evacuated, Jennifer said.

"There were these people who had been through like five hurricanes and they weren't leaving no matter what," she said.

Before the students were evacuated, they helped island residents pull their boats out of the water and tape their windows, and had a hurricane party with pizza and cookies.

On the ferry to Crisfield, "The boat was really rocking. It was kind of neat," Jennifer said. She said she was disappointed to have lost the final two days of the bay study experience.

Jennifer learned about the trip at school. To qualify, she had to submit an application and two recommendations.

The trip started on the Nanticoke River in Delaware.

The students canoed the marshes and visited a chicken farm to learn how the operator keeps chicken wastes from polluting the river.

They talked to Eastern Shore residents who remembered heavy runs of shad that are now much lighter, and banded black ducks for the Department of Natural Resources.

"Our philosophy is that the longer we have kids out on the bay and immerse them, the more they're going to want to change their behavior," Ms. Preston said. The foundation wants the students to conserve water, car pool, use mass transit and recycle, she said.

Jennifer's family may not flatten aluminum foil for reuse as the students did on the trip, but she said the family recycles newspapers, aluminum and plastic bags.

After the trip, Jennifer said she began other conservation measures, such as turning the water off when she brushes her teeth.

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