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Brandywine Trek takes Coatesville youth on ecological journey

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The UnionvilleTimes.com

Connie Shapiro of the Brandywine Valley Association briefs the group before entering the water.

The nine Coatesville-area teens participating in the Coatesville Youth Initiative’s second annual Brandywine Trek this week used the creek for refreshment as well as education since temperatures held steady at scorching levels.

“Look out for the Loch Ness Monster,” joked Sam Brown, 17, as he followed the Brandywine Valley Association’s (BVA) Connie Shapiro into the water to get samples for testing — and to check out the wildlife.

“My favorite thing to do is take kids to the stream and look for critters,” enthused Shapiro. “They tell us about the quality of the water.”

Olivia Lewis, 18, had an immediate assessment. “It’s cold,” she declared, tentatively venturing into the creek. She was one of the last to take the plunge since she had to make sure the cheetah-patterned cast for her broken arm was well-wrapped in plastic.

The Brandywine Trekkers meander along the creek

Ahead of her, a line snaked behind Shapiro as the teens navigated some slippery rocks and depths that ranged from a few inches to six feet. Earlier, the explorers got a lesson on the watershed from the BVA’s Giselle Cosentino.

Cosentino said the group also did some experiments with water filtration, quickly realizing that water is “easy to dirty and hard to clean.” She said the teens first added common pollutants to the water like salt and oil and then created filters to reverse the process with materials such as sand, gravel and charcoal. “They were great to work with,” said Cosentino.

On Tuesday, the group got a crash course in canoeing at Marsh Creek, a skill that enabled them to paddle from Northbrook to the area near the Brandywine Picnic Park on Wednesday afternoon.

Under the auspices of the Brandywine Health Foundation, the teens spent several days being led and fed by Jarvis Berry, the community mobilizer for the Coatesville Youth Initiative. He was assisted by Tim Cakouros.

The group wades into the Brandywine to conduct tests and look for critters and Ken J. Griffin of Outward Bound.

Berry said the overnight program began last year after the foundation was approached by the Stroud Water Research Center, which had piloted a New York youth program in 2007, which traced the Big Apple’s drinking water from its origins in the Catskill Mountains. The center wanted to do a similar program locally, Berry said.

The 2011 program was so successful that the Coatesville Youth Initiative took the lead this year, said Berry, adding a leadership-building component from Outward Bound.

Scarlett Patton, an aspiring kindergarten teacher and recent graduate of Coatesville Area Senior High, said she enjoyed the canoeing experience so much that she is eager to share it with her family.

Olivia Lewis also had sharing on her mind.

“I learned a lot about myself as well as the Brandywine Creek, but the most important thing is what I do with that gained knowledge,” she said at the end of the program. “I now must go out and make a difference in my community. And I will. I vow to do that much.”

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