AMESBURY — The tides of the Powow River may soon be charted again thanks to a downtown business owner and his young clients.
Code & Circuit, a nonprofit computer science classroom specializing in after-school technology courses, founded by Ken Aspeslagh, is located on Main Street just a few feet from the Powow River.
Looking for project ideas for his makers team (which incorporates technology with manufacturing) which would include real time data, Aspeslagh went for a stroll this winter and found just what he was looking for.
"Most people have probably never noticed, but the river goes up and down Main Street twice a day," Aspeslagh said. "Sometimes you will see what looks like a lake in the morning Then, if you go down there in the evening, it could be a mudflat."
The lower Powow River is tidal, yet no public information is available about the timing of the low and high tides.
With a kayak launch scheduled to be built in the Lower Millyard and microcontrollers becoming a fairly cheap piece of equipment, Aspeslagh figured this was the time to give his maker team a new project.
"I thought this would be a really cool bit of data to measure," Aspeslagh said. "What is the actual tide of the river? You could get a tide schedule at the mouth of the Merrimack but it is not going to be the same as the tides in the Powow. This must have been something they kept close track of about a hundred years ago when they were barging things into that spot. But nowadays, most people I talk to don't even know that the tide comes up and down there."
Made up of six mostly middle school students, Aspeslagh's makers team got to work on building an electronic water level sensor for the Powow.
"It has a little GPS receiver and would be internet-connected," Aspeslagh said. "We will be able to send that data to the Internet so that people can see it."
Having started their project in mid-March, the makers team has roughly four more weeks to go before they temporarily place the completed sensor on a metal bulkhead wall at Lower Millyard park.
"This is something that we can experiment with and not worry about the cost, at all," Aspeslagh said. "The idea is, you are building things with your hands usually within the context of technological things. There is some physical building involved, there is some computer design involved, there is some coding and circuitry involved. Each of the students is working on the part they find the most interesting."
City conservation agent John Lopez said he welcomed Aspeslagh's "innovative project," which he believes shows kids how a scientific experiment can help people better manage a natural resource while supporting the city's economic development plans at the same time.
"This is a great interdisciplinary lesson that is being taught here," Lopez said. "The Lower Millard is currently being developed to include a kayak launch and the city hopes to make the [that area] a repeat kayaking destination. The information provided by the students will allow kayakers to know about the tides around the launch site. They can come up, haul out and take a two-minute walk into the downtown area for lunch. Then they can continue on their trip."