Detroit youths launch rowboats they helped build at Riverside Marina

·3 min read

The currents in the Detroit River danced calmly Friday afternoon while sunny blue skies mixed with a breeze blowing just lightly enough for a group of teens and tweens to go out for a boat ride — on a vessel they built with their own hands.

On Monday, the University of Michigan’s Detroit River Story Lab, in partnership with the Green Door Initiative — a Detroit-based environmental nonprofit organization — hosted the second annual Detroit River Skiff and Schooner Building Workshop. The program, which took place at Riverside Marina in Detroit, focused on a five-week workshop that included education on local marine ecology, a hands-on boat building course and the rich legacy of the Detroit River that Detroit historian Jamon Jordan called a "symbol of freedom," partly because of the waterway's role in the Underground Railroad, with many Blacks crossing into Canada to escape the brutalities of slavery.

Donte Adams, 17, of Detroit, left, works at drilling holes for screws in the bottom of a 12-foot Bevin's Skiff as boat builder Deb Scott, 65, of Franklin, helps and guides him at Riverside Marina in Detroit on Aug. 10, 2022. Adams and other teenagers from metro Detroit participated in the weeklong Detroit River Skiff and Schooner program through the University of Michigan's Detroit River Story Lab.
Donte Adams, 17, of Detroit, left, works at drilling holes for screws in the bottom of a 12-foot Bevin's Skiff as boat builder Deb Scott, 65, of Franklin, helps and guides him at Riverside Marina in Detroit on Aug. 10, 2022. Adams and other teenagers from metro Detroit participated in the weeklong Detroit River Skiff and Schooner program through the University of Michigan's Detroit River Story Lab.

“That’s the relationship between Blacks and the river, it represents freedom,” Jordan said. It's a description similar to how many boaters describe what it feels like to be out on the open on the water.

And Friday was the culmination of the group's river odyssey as they finished up their boat projects and launched them from the shores of the river.

The skiffs, or rowboats as they are commonly known as, sat 11-feet-by-7-inches long, made up of marine plywood, a ton of screws and marine adhesive. But, the boats didn’t start that way. Initially, they were just piles of wood stacked on top of each other. And a bunch of measuring and marking had to be done before any building could take place, according to the head carpenter, Jodi Carpenter.

Fifteen-year-old Kyonah Payne said the process was a lot of work.

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Jewell Marsh, 15, of Ferndale, Ian Price, 23, of West Side, Leeanna Jackson, 14, of Novi, and Mariah Vaughn, 14, of Detroit, travel in the boats they have built for the first time in the Detroit River built during the Detroit River Skiff and Schooner Program, at the Riverside Marina on Aug. 12, 2022.
Jewell Marsh, 15, of Ferndale, Ian Price, 23, of West Side, Leeanna Jackson, 14, of Novi, and Mariah Vaughn, 14, of Detroit, travel in the boats they have built for the first time in the Detroit River built during the Detroit River Skiff and Schooner Program, at the Riverside Marina on Aug. 12, 2022.

“It was stressful because I never did it before," the Detroit Edison Public School Academy sophomore said. “But I enjoyed it too. I just thought of it like a big arts and crafts project. I learned patience, and it taught me that even if I don’t want to do something — like in school — I still should because the ending is worth it."

David Porter, director of U-M's Detroit River Story Lab, said these opportunities for students to learn about the marine system are the perfect way to engage youths about riverside projects. And having firsthand experience with the environmental and cultural history of the river is a plus, too.

“This is our perfect centerpiece summer program,” he said.

Leeanna Jackson, 14, a freshman at Northville High School, said the best part of the program was actually building a boat.

“The teamwork was my favorite part,” she said.

Jewell Marsh, 15, of Ferndale, left, Kayden Smith, 15, of Southfield, and McKenzi McGill, 18, of Lansing, paint their 12-foot Bevin's Skiff at Riverside Marina in Detroit on Aug. 10, 2022. Adams and other teenagers from metro Detroit participated in the weeklong Detroit River Skiff and Schooner program through the University of Michigan's Detroit River Story Lab.
Jewell Marsh, 15, of Ferndale, left, Kayden Smith, 15, of Southfield, and McKenzi McGill, 18, of Lansing, paint their 12-foot Bevin's Skiff at Riverside Marina in Detroit on Aug. 10, 2022. Adams and other teenagers from metro Detroit participated in the weeklong Detroit River Skiff and Schooner program through the University of Michigan's Detroit River Story Lab.

“Teamwork,” according to Jason McGuire, CEO of ABC Professional Enterprise, (the  company that manages the marina) is something that youths need more of. He said he is proud that Riverside can serve as a community engagement project such as this one.

“Riverside is more than just a space for boating,” McGuire sad. “It’s a place that connects the community together; the same as the river connects two other larger bodies of water together.”

Jasmin Barmore is born and raised in the city of Detroit. She covers the city's neighborhoods and communities using her passion as her drive to give the voiceless a voice. You can reach her at jmbarmore@freepress.com or by sending her a message on Instagram or Twitter at @bjasminmare.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Workshop helps Detroit youths build boats at Riverside Marina