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Relocated center teaches kids about Lake Lanier
Myers Elementary students prepare to board the Chota Princess II on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, at River Forks Park following a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly built Lake Lanier Aquatic Learning Center boathouse and two-slip dock at the park. - photo by Scott Rogers

A program that teaches students from around the region about Lake Lanier has found a new home at River Forks Park in Gainesville.

The Lake Lanier Aquatic Learning Center, which previously operated out of Aqualand Marina in Flowery Branch for 15 years, relocated to the park in March. Representatives from Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, the Elachee Nature Science Center and Hall County Parks and Leisure celebrated the facility at a ceremony Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Every year, from early spring through late fall, the Chota Princess II floating classroom takes students from around North Georgia out on the lake to learn about wildlife and science. Elachee instructors teach them how to collect lake sediment, sample plankton and determine pH and dissolved oxygen levels in the water.

The program, a collaboration between Elachee and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, has hosted more than 50,000 students in its 18 years of operation.

“The surprising thing about the program is how many students come out here, even from Hall County and Gainesville, who some of them didn’t even know we had a lake here, so this is their first experience,” Andrea Timpone, president and CEO of Elachee, said. “Most of the students who come out here have never been out on the lake and almost all of them can’t believe that their drinking water comes from this lake.”

Ginny Barber, who teaches in the gifted program at Myers Elementary School in Gainesville, brought a group of fourth-grade students to the floating classroom for a trip on Tuesday.

“Look at their faces. Everybody is looking at something,” she said as her students looked for birds. “They’re very engaged. A day out here is like a month in the classroom. There’s so much you can talk about, and you can show them things they’ve never seen before.”

They worked with Elachee naturalists to learn about the history of the lake, measure oxygen levels in the water, look at plankton under a microscope and use binoculars to look at ospreys.

Jason Ulseth, riverkeeper with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the program helps students appreciate their water sources while getting hands-on science lessons.

“By the time they get back, they’re just so excited, and they had such a great time on the lake and doing this hands-on education. … They learn that we have to do everything we can to protect the lake and the river system to protect that water supply,” Ulseth said.