Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Highlights from the 18th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn

The annual Schuylkill River Sojourn is, hands down, the most popular event we host. Our 18th Sojourn, held from June 4-10, 2016, was no exception. We had a great group of paddlers, a record number (79) of whom made the full 112-mile, week long journey from rural Schuylkill Haven to the urban waters of Philadelphia. For the 2nd consecutive year, we also filled each day with the maximum number of boats on the river (about 100-120). All together, 205 people signed on to do all or part of the trip. Virtually all of them left with a greater appreciation for the river, and a new group of paddling friends. It was an adventure filled week. We were fortunate to be accompanied by Sojourn Steward Bradley Maule. Check out his blog here at 

Here are a few of the highlights from the 18th Annual Sojourn:

Friday June 3

The fun starts before the sojourn even begins. Sojourners check in at Schuylkill Haven Island Park and many camp out there the evening before the event begins. Once again this year restored steam Locomotive 113 arrived on the tracks behind the park. Campers were invited to climb aboard and learn more about this impressive engine that was fired with anthracite coal.

Day 1, Saturday June 4:  

Boats lined up before the launch
Going through the Chutes
When120 colorful kayaks hit the water, it's impressive. That's why people line up along bridges and roadsides around Schuylkill Haven to watch and wave--a truly welcome sight for the sojourners. The river along this early part of the trip is windy and narrow, with a very different character than it has in Philadelphia. Luckily, we have great guides and safety boaters who can help out novice paddlers when they get stuck in shallow areas (like me maybe).  Our program theme for the trip celebrated the Centennial of the National Park Service.We were joined on the water by Frank Hays, NPS associate regional director for resources, who gave a brief overview of the NPS Centennial at lunch. After lunch, we headed for the thrill of the day: paddling The Chutes--a bridge abutment that forms a rush of white water. Only four people fell in and, I'm happy to report, I wasn't one of them. The day ended in Port Clinton, where fellow sojourner John Lysaght spoke to a standing room only crowd about his adventures as a thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail.
Frank Hays' lunch presentation
Thru hiker John Lysaght





Day 2, Sunday June 5: 

Paddling from Port Clinton to Muhlenberg Township is among the longest sojourn days, totaling 18.5 miles. At the lunch stop, sojourners were happy to kick back and listen to singer, songwriter  Haley Sheeler, whose music has become an annual highlight. Sojourners then paddled to the beautiful Jim Dietrich Park, in Muhlenberg Twp., where a drenching downpour struck just as they were coming off the water. After drying off and eating a delicious Mexican dinner, they set up camp around the park's scenic barn and ended the evening with an informative talk by Independence National Park Ranger Matt Ifill on NPS history.

Day 3, Monday June 6 

Not all the fun on the sojourn happens on the water. Monday has been designated Crazy Hat Day by the sojourners and each year we have more crazy hats. The sojourners like to wear their hats while navigating Kelly's Rapids, located just outside of reading--one of the most popular river features. At lunch, we heard a presentation on river snorkeling, by snorkeling enthusiast Kieth Williams of Northbay Adventure. The evening campsite, at Allegheny Aqueduct Park, featured a Dutch Oven cooking demonstration by Randy "Splatterdab" Brown. The lemon cake and biscuits he and his wife baked were the perfect end of day snacks.

 Day 4, Tuesday June 7:

Pottstown's Riverfront Park

Leaving Gibraltar
This day is short and sweet--only 13.8 miles, with some striking scenery. The lunch stop is at Historic Morlatton Village, with fried chicken on the menu--a guilty pleasure for the the hard paddling sojourners. While they enjoyed Rita's water ice for dessert, they heard a presentation on the region's iron and steel heritage. The second half of the day went quickly and they arrived at Pottstown's Riverfront Park with plenty of time to shower in our offices before dinner. The evening ended with a band playing music by the river and a selection of short films from Pottstown's In Focus Film Festival.
Morlatton Village lunch stop

Day 5, Wednesday June 8:  

Leaving Pottstown
 Unfortunately, we had to forego the annual tradition of locking through the restored Lock 60 because the lock was undergoing repairs. But Wednesday turned out to be an eventful day anyway.  For one thing, a sudden, violent storm overtook the sojourners just after they pulled into a water stop in Linfield. They crammed together for cover under a small pavilion. At lunch they were welcomed at Royersford's Victory Park where they listened to an entertaining talk about Valley Forge National Historical Park by Ranger Bill Troppman. They finished the long 17.8 mile paddle at Lock 60, where they ate a spaghetti dinner and watched a slideshow on the NPS Centennial-themed Philadelphia Flower Show. While they settled in at the park, three of our staff members went to the Union League in Philadelphia where our former Executive Director Kurt Zwikl was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Earlier that day, our Executive Director Silas Chamberlin gave the keynote address for the Pennsylvania Statewide Heritage Conference in Lewisburg.
Waiting out the storm under a pavilion
At the Union League

Day 6, Thursday June 9: 

Sojourners paused for a group photo in the canal before their journey to West Conshohocken. Here's what it looked like when the 112 boats launched down the canal:

Sojourners stopped at Valley Forge National Historical Park for lunch, where Interim Park Superintendent Patrick Madden spoke about the park's centennial programs.Once again this year, we were accompanied on the water by the fun-loving Norristown Boat Club. In the evening, after a delicious dinner of barbeque ribs and chicken, sojourners heard a talk from our terrific Sojourn Steward Brad Maule, who spent the week photo documenting litter issues, and produced excellent nightly blogs that gave a great recap of each day of the sojourn. Check out his website phillyskyline.com to read about the sojourn and see his beautiful pictures.

Day 7, Friday June 10:  

The last of the sojourners pose for a final photo in Philadelphia
 The 17th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn ended as always at Boathouse Row. Paddlers stopped for lunch at the historic Philadelphia Canoe Club where they got to gaze at some beautiful wooden canoes and hear a presentation from Fairmount Water. Back on the water, they were joined by the Philadelphia Flying Phoenix Dragon Boat Team.
To learn more about the sojourn or to sign up for our email updates visit our website at 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Highlights from the SRT Spreekend

SRT Ale is back! And once again Sly Fox Brewery has generously agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this "Ale for the Trail" to the Schuylkill River Heritage Area to maintain, expand and improve the Schuylkill River Trail. Sly Fox helped us celebrate the beer's Earth Day release with a weekend of trail activities dubbed the SRT Spreekend.

Friday April 22

The Spreekend got underway on Friday April 22 with an evening trail cleanup in Riverfront Park in Pottstown. Over 20 volunteers turned out, collecting about 20 bags of litter, six tires and a collection of interesting trash that included a ceiling fan blade, vacuum part, broken bicycle pedal, rug and a tent.

After the cleanup, volunteer and our staff helped Sly Fox celebrate the first tapping of SRT Ale.

Saturday, April 23

The day began early with a morning kayak launch as 40 paddlers left Riverfront Park to enjoy a day on the river and make their way to Lock 60 of the Schuylkill Canal in time for the Spreekend Festival which began at 3:00.
While they paddled, a 50K Spreekend Relay Race also got underway on the Schuylkill River Trail, beginning and ending at Schuylkill Canal Park. And the Schuylkill River Heritage Area led a group of 30 volunteers in a cleanup of another section of the trail in Douglassville. They collected 20 bags of trash and helped with a trail-widening project.

All volunteers were given Spreekend T-shirts and vouchers to try the new SRT Ale at the Spreekend Festival which featured Sly Fox Beer, Food and live music throughout the evening.Some people took advantage of the opportunity to camp out in the park and help with our final Spreekend cleanup Sunday morning.

Sunday, April 24

On Sunday, another 25 volunteers showed up for a cleanup at Lock 60. They cleared another 20 bags of trash from along the river and trail. Altogether, we had 66 volunteers at three cleanups remove over 60 bags of litter, in addition to some other large items--numerous tires, a child's plastic swimming pool, a lawn chair, tent, blanket and rug. They worked a combined total of 132 hours! And two other Spreekend cleanups were held in Phoenixville and Norristown in which another 80 volunteers participated.

Overall, the Spreekend was a great way to celebrate, clean and enjoy the trail and the Schuylkill River!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Why Not Sign Up for the Schuylkill River Sojourn's Mid-week Days?

It's happened again. Only hours after we opened up registration for individual days on the annual Schuylkill River Sojourn the first three days of the seven-day guided canoe/kayak tour (June 4-10) are sold out. Sure, everybody wants to paddle on the weekend. But, to keep things safe we allow only about 100 boats per day. That means we wind up turning people away on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, while Tuesday through Friday fill up more slowly--or sometimes don't fill up at all.

If you are one of those who hesitated a bit too long to get on the sojourn's weekend days, don't despair! Here's a day-by-day guide to the sojourn's mid-week days. All have openings so you can sign up for one or all four! As always the sojourn will begin in Schuylkill Haven and end at Philadelphia's Boathouse Row with participants paddling 14-18 miles per day. The program theme celebrates the Centennial of the National Park Service.

 Tuesday June 7 (13.9 miles: Gibraltar to Pottstown)
Riverfront Park, Pottstown
This is a great day for Sojourn newcomers!  It's an easy paddle featuring beautiful scenery with the opportunity to spot interesting wildlife. The lunch stop is at Historic Morlatton Village, one of our region's best kept historic secrets. There, we'll have a presentation about the region's fascinating iron history. And the evening stop, at Riverfront Park in Pottstown, includes arguably the best dinner on the trip, catered by Bause Catering. We're teaming up with Pottstown Borough this year for an entertaining evening featuring a live band followed by screenings from Pottstown's first film festival.

Wednesday June 8. (17.8 miles: Pottstown to Mont Clare Lock 60) 
Lock 60

One of the major highlights of the week-long sojourn happens on this day. Sojourners end the day by "locking through" the restored Lock 60 on the former Schuylkill Canal (see photo on left).. But, there's also some nice scenery and an enjoyable lunch setting  at Victory Park, in Royersford, where the Borough officials welcome sojourners with a delicious cake.  In the evening, paddlers can camp out near the canal, eat spaghetti dinner at nearby St. Micheal's Pavilion, and watch a slideshow about the Philadelphia Flower Show's National Park Service displays.

Thursday June 9 (14 miles: Mont Clare to West Conshohocken)
The river features a nice mix of scenery through this area. Paddlers begin the day in the canal and make their way into the river and through some wooded areas. The sojourn lunch will be at Valley Forge National Historic Park where a park ranger will give sojourners a rundown on how the park is celebrating the Centennial.  This stop always features an entertaining free raffle by Stony Creek Anglers. Later in the day sojourners encounter some interesting bridges and urban settings. At dinner, in West Conshohocken, they'll eat an amazing barbecue dinner served up by the Rib House.

Friday June 10 (16 miles: West Conshohocken to Philadelphia).

This may be the final day, but it's also one of the best days of the sojourn! Sojourners love having the opportunity to paddle with the Philadelphia skyline as their backdrop and alongside the iconic Boathouse Row. If you need another reason to paddle on Friday, lunch is at the historic Philadelphia Canoe Club, where you eat surrounded by some amazing antique boats. You'll also hear a brief presentation about the Washington Rochambeau National Historic Route.  The final takeout is Lloyd Hall on Boathouse Row. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Look at What We Have Planned for 2016

We expect 2016 to be another year chock full of events and programs that improve the Schuylkill River, expand the Schuylkill River Trail, and make this region a better place to live, work and play.

Improve the Schuylkill River Trail
We are always working with partners to improve, promote, expand and maintain the Schuylkill River Trail. Our Safe Crossings Program is one of the trail projects we will address in 2016, making areas where trails and roads intersect safer for trail users.

Organize a Ride for the River
Ride for the River is a new 40-mile bike ride that will take cyclists from Pottstown to Reading along the Schuylkill River Trail on September 24, 2016. We're holding this event in partnership with Sly Fox Brewery, beginning and ending at the Sly Fox Can Jam festival in Pottstown, which features 8 hours of free, live music.

Promote River Recreation with the 18th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn
The18th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn will be held from June 4-10, 2016 and will incorporate special National Park Service programming at lunch and evening stops in recognition of the NPS Centennial. Since it was first initiated in 1999, the annual Schuylkill River Sojourn has grown increasingly popular. Over the years the 112-mile, seven-day guided canoe/kayak tour has introduced over 3,000 participants from 25 states, Canada, France and Switzerland to paddling the river. 

Complete the Pottstown RiverWalk 
We will cut the ribbon on  the new Pottstown RiverWalk this spring. This new addition to Riverfront Park in Pottstown will connect to the Schuylkill River Trail, creating a one-mile loop through a wooded area and along the river. The RiverWalk will be enhanced by interpretive signs offering information about area wildlife, watersheds, plant life and more. Located behind our offices, it will provide a new amenity for trail users and visitors to our River of Revolutions Interpretive Center.
 Support a Cleaner River with the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund
The 2016 grant round of the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund opened in January. Since 2006, the fund has collected over $2.5 million and awarded grants to 73 projects that improve water quality in the river and its tributaries by reducing pollution from stormwater runoff, agricultural contaminants and abandoned mine drainage.
Host an Evening for the Schuylkill River
On March 12, we will host a dinner and awards ceremony at the Historic Sunnybrook Ballroom in Pottstown. This first-time event will celebrate our work and recognize some of our key partners. Attendees will enjoy an evening of delicious food, live music basket raffles and silent auction items. 
Hold Six Pedal & Paddle Events
Our popular Pedal & Paddles take people on a round trip adventure in Pottstown that includes a 4.5 mile bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail, a tour of Historic Morlatton Village in Douglassville, and a return trip via kayak on the river. This year, one of our Pedal and Paddles will be held at Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare. Since Pedal & Paddles were first initiated in 2011, they have proven so popular that nearly each event has sold out. Over the years we have introduced hundreds of people to paddling the river and biking the trail through this program. 

Support the Arts through Scenes of the Schuylkill
We recently expanded the reach of our annual Scenes of the Schuylkill Art Show by displaying a selection of 16 pieces of art from last fall’s show at Valley Forge National Historical Park Visitors Center. That exhibit is on display from January 13 to February 26, 2016.  Scenes of the Schuylkill will enter its 13th year next November. Each year, the shown has grown and consistently attracted talented artists whose work celebrates the beauty and character of the Schuylkill River region.
Partner on the SRT SPREE
Last April, we partnered with Sly Fox Brewery to introduce the new SRT Ale, a seasonal beer that celebrates and benefits the Schuylkill River Trail. The beer was launched through a unique event dubbed the SRT SPREE, which took a two-man team on a 110-mile journey along the river and trail. This year, a shorter, weekend SPREE is planned when the next round of SRT Ale becomes available again on Earth Day. In 2015, the sales of the beer yielded over $4,000 for the Schuylkill River Trail.
Introduce a New Water Trail Guide
We are working with a designer on the development of a new Schuylkill River Water Trail guide that includes detailed maps of the river and information on access points, hazards, parks, amenities and notable sites along the river. The guide will be published later this year, replacing our popular but outdated and far less detailed existing guides, and making the river safer and more accessible for recreational boaters.

Monday, December 21, 2015

How We Spent 2015: Our Year in Review

Wow, 2015 was an amazing year here at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. We saw our events grow in popularity and introduced new events. We created new opportunities for people to connect with the river. And we improved, promoted and celebrated the Schuylkill River Trail. Take a look at our Year in Review. We worked hard, accomplished a lot, and in the process, we can't deny it, we managed to have some fun.
1. Celebrated the Schuylkill River Trail as America's Best Urban Trail

The Schuylkill River Trail was voted America's #1 Urban Trail in a USA Today Reader's Poll. We thought this was a big deal. So did a lot of our trail partners and top state officials. Over 100 people came to celebrate at Schuylkill Banks in Philadelphia. Speakers included Secretary of DCNR Cindy Dunn, Secretary of PennDOT Leslie Richards, Secretary of the PA DEP John Quigley and National Park Service Northeast Regional Director Mike Caldwell, as well as a number of other state and local officials.
2. Introduced an Ale for the Trail

 In April, we partnered with Sly Fox Brewery to introduce the new seasonal SRT Ale. Billed as an Ale for the Trail,  a portion of the proceeds went directly to the Schuylkill River Trail. Sly Fox launched it with a particularly fun event, the SRT SPREE. A two-person team traveled over 100 miles, covering nearly the entire length of the Schuylkill River Trail by kayak, bike, horseback and on foot. Overall, the beer was a great success. In September, Sly Fox presented us with a check for over $4,000 for our Schuylkill River Trail Safe Crossings project, improving areas where the trail intersects roadways. Look for more SRT Ale and a second SRT SPREE in April 2016. Learn more.

3. Led a Record-Breaking 17th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn

The 17th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn was a record breaker. More people than ever before (74) made the full 112-mile trip  from Schuylkill Haven to Philadelphia. And  we filled each day with the maximum number of boats allowed on the water, 100-120, something we haven't done since the Sojourn's 10th anniversary in 2008. All those people on the water made for a particularly fun seven days. We are already planning the 18th Annual Sojourn for June 4-10, 2016, with special programming that will celebrate the Centennial of the National Park Service. Read more.

4. Began Construction on a New RiverWalk in Pottstown

 In November, work crews began construction on a new trail in Pottstown right outside our offices. The new multi-use, crushed stone trail spans a wooded area of Riverfront Park, right outside our office, creating a one-mile loop that links to the Schuylkill River Trail. It will feature a series of interpretive signs that offer information on local birds, woodlands, watersheds and more. Look for a ribbon cutting in the spring.

5. Enhanced our Volunteer Programs
We rely on volunteers to help us maintain the Schuylkill River Trail in Berks and Schuylkill Counties, where we operate and maintain about 30 miles of trail. For that reason, we have a number of volunteer opportunities, including our Trail Ambassador program and Sponsor-a-Trail and Adopt-a-Trail programs. This year, thanks to our Trail Sustainability Coordinator Kaitlin Flahive, we added three new Adopt-A-Trail members, including Children's Home of Reading, Alvernia University students (shown above right) and White Deer Run Blue Mountain (above left), a residential treatment facility for adults. These groups will now clean up several miles of the Schuylkill River Trail in Reading and Hamburg.

6. Printed and Distributed 1000s of Schuylkill River Trail Maps
This summer, we printed 50,000 Schuylkill River Trail Maps that have proven to be incredibly popular. Our volunteers handed them out along the trail on August 1, and we have delivered dozens of cases to our partners and Gateway Centers. People keep asking for more. The accordion-style, full-color foldout brochures delineate the entire 130-mile trail, including planned, finished and on-road sections. On the flip side is information about amenities and attractions in trail towns. Find out where you can get a trail map. 

7. Welcomed our New Executive Director

In June, we sadly said goodbye to our longtime Executive Director Kurt Zwikl (left), who retired after leading the Heritage Area for 12 years. We were pleased to welcomed on board Silas Chamberlin who was selected through an extensive search. Silas holds a doctorate in environmental history from Lehigh University, and formerly served as a regional advisor for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Prior to that time, he worked as senior director for the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. Silas has already brought a lot of positive energy to our organization and we look forward to more in the coming year. Read more.

8. Organized a Unique Colonial Dining Experience at a Historic Site

This spring we held a colonial dinner at the Historic White Horse Inn (c. 1762), in Morlatton Village, in Douglassville. The dinner featured a colonial inspired menu, a candlelit atmosphere, and waitstaff in period costume. Diners enjoyed harpsichord music and local wines and beer, as well as a hearth cooking demonstration. It was an enjoyable evening that received rave reviews from participants. Look for information soon about our next dinner at Historic Sunnybrook Ballroom on March 12! Learn more.

9. Continued our Commitment to Cleaning the River
 In September, we distributed $275,000 in Schuylkill River Restoration Fund grants to  projects that will improve water quality in the Schuylkill River and its tributaries. The grant announcement was held at the Rice Farm in Kempton, PA, where a restoration fund grant funded agricultural improvement projects that keep manure and other pollutants out of nearby Maiden Creek, which drains into the Schuylkill. Since the Restoration Fund was established in 2006 through a public/private partnership,  it has garnered more than $2.5 million and funded 73 projects that have reduced stormwater run-off, agricultural pollutants and abandoned mine drainage.

10. Hosted Six Pedal & Paddle Events

Our round-trip Pedal and Paddle biking/kayaking adventures continue to be among our most popular programs. For 2015, we held six events--including our first Hike and Paddle at Lock 60 along the Schuylkill Canal. All together we took a total of 95 people along the trail and on the river.  Since we introduced our first Pedal & Paddle in 2011, we have sold out nearly every session offered. Most Pedal & Paddles include a 4.5 mile ride along the Schuylkill River Trail in Pottstown, a tour of Historic Morlatton Village and a return trip via kayak. Our goal is to get more people to enjoy biking the trail, paddling the river and learning about the region's history.

11. Held our 12th Annual Art Show


 The Annual Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area art show continues to draw more excitement each year. This year, we had 163 works submitted, 93 of which were juried into the show. The exhibit, at the Montgomery County Community College West Campus Gallery, ran from Nov. 9-Dec 11. In January, we will display a selection of the art at Valley Forge National Historical Park in the Visitors Center.

12. Expanded our Educational Program for At-Risk Students 

For the past three years we have been fortunate enough to have VISTA workers serving one-year terms in our office, working as trail sustainability coordinators. They have created and expanded the Schuylkill Outdoor Leadership Odyssey, an  educational program that connects at-risk high school students to the outdoors and sparks their interest in environmental careers. This year, VISTA Kaitlin Flahive expanded the program to include schools in Philadelphia, Berks and Schuylkill CountiesThe 10 to12-week  program consists of classes with guest speakers, field trips and service projects. It was highlighted by a kayaking trip on the river. Kaitlin further impacted at-risk youth by partnering with the National Park Service to conduct Canoemobile programs that taught nearly150 students about the environment through hands-on activities. 

13.  Continued Our Free Bike Share
For 2015 we shared our Bike Pottstown and Bike Schuylkill cruisers over 1,000 times to people who used them for recreation along the Schuylkill River Trail and for transportation downtown. Available in three communities, Pottstown, Hamburg and Phoenixville, the bikes were borrowed by people from 10 different states, Ireland, Canada and Holland. Learn more. 

14. Planned for 2016 
We're already busy planning our next Fundraising Dinner for March 12, another SRT Spree in April, our 18th Schuylkill River Sojourn in June, Pedal and Paddle events throughout the summer, and a 40-mile round-trip Ride for the River bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail. Visit  to learn more.