“Camp Aqueduct” by Taylor-Rae Smith, Lincoln High School

My adventure started under a warm sun. Today was our field trip to the Old Croton Aqueduct. I couldn't wait to share this historical gem with my young campers. As a counselor at the YMCA, my days were usually filled with arts and crafts, swimming, and parks. But this trip promised something different - a chance to delve into the past and spark the campers' imaginations.

When our bus rumbled to a halt, the excited chatter of the children erupted like a swarm of excited bees. We exited the bus, the crisp scent of pine needles filling our lungs. Towering trees lined the gravel path, casting shadows on the ground.

My visit to the Old Croton Aqueduct was an unforgettable experience. Teaching the children history was the goal, but I got more than I bargained for. Witnessing their initial apprehension around the darkened weir chamber transform into enthusiastic exploration, fueled by knowledgeable guides and their own imaginations, was remarkable.

Our tour guides’ voices, seasoned with historical understanding, painted vivid pictures of the past. They spoke of the Aqueduct’s construction in the 1840s and the dedication of the laborers. They explained how the Aqueduct cleverly utilized gravity's pull instead of defying it. The sloping design, with a drop of just 13 inches per mile, allowed water to flow naturally from Croton Reservoir to New York City, 41 miles. It was a marvel of its time. The Old Croton Aqueduct showcased how understanding and working with natural forces can solve monumental challenges. As the children listened, their eyes sparkled with curiosity, history coming alive not just through words but through the very stones we stood upon.

The trip was about nurturing their ability to create, comprehend, and to engage with the world in a way that went past staring at pre-packaged entertainment blasted at them on a screen daily.

The Aqueduct, a historical landmark, became a place with meaning for me. The trip solidified my role as more than just a counselor. The kids turned to me in their times of anxiety as we explored the unknown. I kept them engaged as we waited for the groups prior to finish their tour, something that usually proved difficult with easily bored five- and six-year-olds. We marveled together as we discovered the depth of the chamber and the roaring water under the Dam’s bridge.

In those moments, technology faded, replaced by the raw, breathtaking beauty of the natural world. It was a reminder that despite our access to computers, the inherent human connection to nature remains; evidence of the power of nature. Even in this digital age, wonder can still bloom, and magic lies just beyond the screen, sometimes in our own backyards, waiting to be rediscovered, together.

The Old Croton Aqueduct may have once transported water, but on that summer day, it transported us - my campers and I - on a journey of discovery, laughter, connection, and wonder. And those memories, like the Aqueduct itself, stand tall in my mind, and I am forever grateful that I was able to experience it.

1. Aqueduct, Friends of the Old Croton. “Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct |.” Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, https://aqueduct.org/. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.
2. “New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.” New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, https://parks.ny.gov/. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.