Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Look Back on our 2013 Achievements

At the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, we are always working to fulfill our goals of using conservation, education, recreation, cultural and historic preservation and tourism as tools for community revitalization and economic development.  Here's a breakdown of our top 10 projects, programs and events for 2013.

1. Organized the Cycles & Cemeteries Ride.  

In September we held our Cycles & Cemeteries Ride, the second ride in our three-year Schuylkill River Trail Bike Tour Series.  It was a tremendous success, attracting 140 cyclists who participated in a 14 or 28-mile ride along the Schuylkill River Trail from Norristown to East Falls. It included tours of two historic cemeteries, Laurel Hill and Montgomery Cemetery, where Civil War notables are buried. Watch for information soon on our 2014 Pedaling Through our National Parks Ride.

2. Led our 15th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn

  Over 200 paddlers  took the journey from Schuylkill Haven to Philadelphia in June, during the 15th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn. with a record number, 59, making the full trip. This year's sojourn theme, A Civil War Odyssey, celebrated the region's role in the Civil War with programs at lunch and evening stops that featured re-enactors, informative presentations, Civil War music, and a  talk by Gettysburg National Park Superintendent Bob Kirby. The sojourn continues to be a popular event. Since its inception in 1999, over 3,000 registrants from 21 states and Canada have participated. 

3. Expanded the Schuylkill River Trail.

 We cut the ribbon recently on a new section of trail in Bern Township that will eventually connect to the larger Schuylkill River Trail. The 2,100-foot length of new trail is small but beautiful. It will be expanded next year to a 2.5-mile trail, with construction of another off-road trail that will connect to the Bern Twp. section by a short on-road piece through Leesport. It is one of the first pieces of trail to be constructed along the 20-mile Reading to Hamburg stretch of the Schuylkill River Trail. Other notable trail projects we completed included: resurfacing a portion of the trail in Berks County, and adding mile markers from Stowe to Reading. We  also continued to grow our volunteer base, our Trail Ambassador program and our Sponsor-a-Trail and Adopt-a-Trail programs in Berks and Schuylkill Counties where we operate and maintain 28 miles of the trail.

4. Fostered Outdoor Recreation with Community Bike Shares. 

 Bike Pottstown and Bike Schuylkill are completely free bike share programs that we have made available in three communities: Pottstown, Phoenixville and Hamburg. This year we expanded our commitment to the bike shares with a new website: We also encouraged people to try the Bike Pottstown bikes by offering free water bottles to first time participants.

5. Launched a series of Lectures and Book Signings.  

We held four book signings and lectures in 2013, in order to promote the region's history and environment, while drawing attention to local authors. Books featured were: The African American Experience at Valley Forge by Frances Delmar; More Trees Please, by Rich Wood; and Legendary Locals of Pottstown, by Sue Repko (shown above)  and Ed Berger. In addition, we also held two showings of the hour-long documentary The City Dark, about the loss of night. A final lecture, Pastors & Patriots: The Muhlenberg Family of Pennsylvania, by Lisa Minardi, was canceled recently due to the weather. It will be rescheduled in the spring. We are planning more lectures for 2014.

6. Distributed Grants to Improve River Water Quality. 

 In September,the Schuylkill River Heritage Area distributed over $350,000 in Schuylkill River Restoration Fund grants to 10 projects that will improve water quality in the Schuylkill River and its tributaries. Since the Restoration Fund was established in 2006 through a public/private partnership,  it has garnered more than $2 million and funded 42 projects that have reduced stormwater run-off, agricultural pollutants and abandoned mine drainage.

7. Pedaled and Paddled.

Our round-trip Pedal and Paddle biking/kayaking adventures continue to be among our most popular events. Since we introduced our first Pedal & Paddle in 2011, they have consistently sold out nearly as soon as we begin advertising them. In 2013, we held a total of five events, with one each month from May through September  Over the course of the summer, we took 75 people on a 4.5 mile ride along the Schuylkill River Trail in Pottstown, a tour of Historic Morlatton Village and a return trip via kayak.

8. Held our 10th Annual Art Show. 

 The juried Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area art show once again served as a showcase for regional talent that highlighted the beauty of the river valley. The show featured 83 original works, and hung in the Montgomery County Community College West Campus Gallery from Aug. 28 to Oct. 18. Over 100 people attended the opening reception.

9. Introduced an Educational Program for At-Risk Students.  

Our VISTA volunteer, Anesa Owen, who worked full-time in our offices through most of 2013, joined forces with the I-LEAD Charter School in Reading to develop the Schuylkill Outdoor Leadership Odyssey, a new educational program that connects at-risk urban youth to the outdoors and sparks their interest in environmental careers. The 14-week mentoring program for 9th & 10th graders consisted of weekly classes with guest speakers, as well as several field trips. It was highlighted by a kayaking trip down a section of the river in Reading. Although Anesa is scheduled to leave in February, the class will be continued in 2014.

10. Welcomed Hundreds of Visitors to our River of Revolutions Interpretive Center.

 Our Interpretive Center,  which opened last year, has welcomed hundreds of visitors throughout 2013.  Located in our Pottstown headquarters, the River of Revolutions Interpretive Center serves as a visitors center for the entire Schuylkill River region. It has proven to have wide appeal, featuring interactive exhibits and colorful displays that offer information on river history, recreational opportunities, historic sites, environmental awareness and more.

A Peek at What We've Planned for 2014. We'll open an exhibit of Revolutionary War illustrations in February. Our 16th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn will launch this spring. Our 11th Annual Scenes of the Schuylkill Art Show will open in the fall. And in September our 3rd Schuylkill River Trail Bike Tour, named Pedal Though our National Parks, will take cyclists on a two-day ride along the trail to three National Parks: Hopewell Furnace, Valley Forge and Independence. We're looking forward to a great year ahead!

Monday, November 25, 2013

10 Reasons to Vote for the Schuylkill as PA's 2014 River of the Year

2012 Schuylkill River Sojourn; by Jeremy Quant
The Schuylkill River is a finalist for the 2014 Pennsylvania River of the Year! The winner will be selected by an online public voting process that begins now and runs through Dec. 27. We'd love to see the Schuylkill get the recognition it deserves. We hope you vote for the Schuylkill.

Click Here To Vote Now

Here are 10 reasons why we think you should:

1.It's inspiring: The Schuylkill was once one of the nation's most polluted rivers until, in the mid 20th century the state of PA undertook the Schuylkill River Project, the first government-funded, large scale environmental project of its kind. The project dredged millions of tons of coal silt from the river. Later, laws were enacted to prevent raw sewage and industrial waste from being dumped routinely into its waters. The result? Today the river is a beautiful place to recreate, and its waterfronts are inviting places where parks, eateries and shops flourish. You can learn more about the Schuylkill River Project by reading Chari Towne's book A River Again. Learn more.

2. The Schuylkill River Trail: The trail is a beautiful recreational amenity that is helping bolster the regional economy.  A 2009 Schuylkill River Trail user survey conducted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy found that the trail attracted over 800,000 visits and generated $7.3 million in direct economic impact in 2008. The economic impact is expected to grow as the trail grows. When complete, it will total 130 miles from Philadelphia to Schuylkill County. Currently, there are over 60 miles of finished trail.

3.Cleanup Efforts Continue: The river is a lot cleaner than it once was, but there is still work to be done, and there are many agencies throughout the watershed engaged in activities that improve water quality in the river. One example is the Schuylkill Action Network. Another is the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund, administered annually by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area as part of a public/private partnership.  Since being established in 2006, the fund has collected more than $2 million and funded 42 projects that reduce stormwater run-off, agricultural pollution and abandoned mine drainage.

4. Return of the Shad: In colonial times, American shad were so bountiful in the river that 8,500 were once caught in a single day at a fishery near Pickering Creek. After the Schuylkill Navigation System was built in 1820, shad could no longer spawn in the river because 10 dams blocked annual upstream migrations. Over the past decade, a concerted effort has been made to return shad to the Schuylkill.  Fish ladders have been installed at four dams (Fairmount, Flat Rock, Norristown and Black Rock dams). Three breached dams have been removed (Plymouth, Vincent and Felix Dams). The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has stocked more than 4.5 million juvenile shad since1999.

5. Wildlife: Do you know that bald eagles are regularly spotted along the Schuylkill now? Since the 1970s, bird species have been increasing along the river, a direct result of the river's gradually recovery. And it's not only birds that are coming back, wood turtles, mink, river otters and spring peepers are among the many species making a comeback.

6. History: The river played an important role in three revolutions that shaped our nation: the American, Industrial and Environmental. During the American Revolution, soldiers at Valley Forge encamped beside the river. It later served as a transportation route during the Industrial Revolution, when coal was carried down the Schuylkill Canal to fuel factories and steel mills across the nation. It's inspiring environmental story has been told above..

7. Recreation: The Schuylkill River is a National Canoe Association Recommended Water Trail, with signs at landings and water trail maps that make it more accessible to paddlers. And every year, the Schuylkill River Heritage Area hosts the popular Schuylkill River Sojourn, a 112-mile guided paddle that begins each year in rural Schuylkill County and ends a week later at Philadelphia's Boathouse Row.

8. Drinking water: The Schuylkill  is a source of drinking water for over 1.5 million people.

9. It's beautiful: The river is a scenic waterway, often hidden from view, that provides a peaceful oasis for people wishing to reconnect with nature a short distance from urban areas and suburban neighborhoods.

10. It almost won last year. The Schuylkill was a finalist for PA's 2013 River of the Year. Although the Monongahela ultimately won by a narrow margin, voters showed strong support for the Schuylkill, which earned 8,010 votes to the Mon's 8,156 - a less than 1 percent difference of only 146 votes. We know it can win for 2014!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Legendary Locals of Pottstown Lecture & Book Signing

Heritage Area Exec Dir. Kurt Zwikl speaks while authors Ed Berger & Sue Repko look on

It's safe to say that everyone in Pottstown knows about native Amanda Smith, who founded Mrs. Smith's Delicious Homemade Pies, a company that baked pies in Pottstown and distributed them to every state in the nation. But not many people know that Hildegard Peplau, who trained at Pottstown Hospital School of Nursing in 1931, is known as the "mother of psychiatric nursing" for having revolutionized care for people with behavioral and personality disorders. And fewer still have likely heard of Naomi Childers, a silent screen actress born in Pottstown in 1892. Those people, and many more, are the subjects of the new book  Legendary Locals of Pottstown, co-authored by Sue Repko and Ed Berger and released last month by Arcadia Publishing as part of its Legendary Locals series.

Sue Repko signs a book
Ed Berger

Repko and Berger delighted an audience at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area offices on Wednesday evening, Nov. 6, with tales of the "legends," both famous and  little known, who have left their mark on Pottstown. Repko talked about the process of writing and researching the book, and the fascinating people she discovered in the process. Berger, a jazz writer and photographer who took many of the contemporary photographs in the book, discussed his techniques for capturing his subjects in their homes and places of business.

As a bonus, the authors placed a selection of the book's enlarged photographs around  the room, providing an interesting focal point throughout the lecture.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Ride on the Colebrookdale Railroad

 The staff at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area recently spent a scenic fall morning riding the rails, taking a trip through stunning fall foliage on the Colebrookdale Railroad, from Boyertown to Pottstown.

Nathaniel Guest
This unique trip was organized by a member of our Board of Directors, Nathaniel Guest. Nathaniel has headed up an effort to establish a dedicated tourist railroad along  the route we rode yesterday morning, working through the Colebrook Railroad Preservation Trust. The trust hopes to have passenger trains running as early as next October, if they are able to secure funding to purchase a locomotive, that is.

We were invited to test out the 8.6 mile line because, as Nathaniel said "you just don't expect to see a rail line this scenic from Boyertown to Pottstown." And he was right. The tracks overlook some pretty spectacular views, with steep cliffs that drop down to flowing creeks. The bright orange,
red and yellow leaves were a bonus

The subtitle for the line is "The Secret Valley Line," which is appropriate, considering that it takes you through what is essentially a now hidden passageway that peeks at farms, back roads and wilderness.

We rode in small rail cars known as "speeders." They weren't very fast, but were so named because they replaced old pump cars that were much slower. We learned that the drivers of the speeders own their own cars and take excursions on them. Who knew? Our driver, Hank, came from York to transport us along the Colebrookdale Line in the speeder shown on the left. This was only one of several speeders that made the trip yesterday, since they are small vehicles holding only one to three passengers and a driver.

In the end though, this was more than just a scenic tour on a cute speeder car. It was a train ride through some impressive history, taking us over old railroad bridges, past numerous gristmills and former iron forges and furnaces, and through Pine Forge, the site of the first iron works in Pennsylvania.

You can learn more about the Colebrookdale Railroad: The Secret Valley Line and efforts to establish a tourist railroad by visiting:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Schuylkill River Restoration Fund Grants

Slaughterhouse waste, Bridgeport
If you are like a lot of people, you probably think the Schuylkill River isn't all that clean. But the truth is, it's a lot cleaner than it used to be. There was a time--and it wasn't really all that long ago--when the river served as a dumping site for industrial waste and (disgustingly enough) untreated sewage. Just about anything anyone wanted to throw in it was game. Not only was the water filthy, but the channel was literally clogged with coal silt that washed into the river from mining operations.

A serious effort to save the river was undertaken in 1948, when the state of Pennsylvania authorized the Schuylkill Project, which dredged millions of tons of coal silt from the river. (You can read more about this in Chari Towne's book A River Again). Later, in the 1950s, sewer systems were built and laws were enacted that placed restrictions on what could be dumped in the water.

So now, raw sewage and chemicals aren't routinely being poured untreated into the river. That's good. But when it comes to polluting the Schuylkill, we're not out of the water yet, so to speak.

What are today's issues impacting the river? Stormwater run-off, acid mine drainage and agricultural contaminants Those are the three key areas targeted by the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund, which is administered by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. The fund has been around since 2006, and since that time it has collected more than $2 million for projects that help keep potential pollutants out of the river. A total of 42 projects have been funded through this program, which gets money from Exelon Generation, the Philadelphia Water Dept. and Aqua PA..

Over 6,500 feet of stream banks have been protected from the impacts of stormwater runoff by various means such as planting riparian buffers and stabilizing the banks (see photo on right).  Manure containment systems that keep animal waste out of the Schuylkill and its tributaries have been constructed on numerous farms in Berks County; and projects at several abandoned Schuylkill County coal mines prevent toxic acid drainage from entering the river.

In September, we distributed over $350,000in Schuylkill River Restoration Fund Grants to10 projects that will help keep more pollutants out of the river. The photo on left shows visitors viewing a streambank restoration project at East Norriton Middle School during the recent grant announcement.  Check out our webpage to learn more about the projects funded and the grant program.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Schuylkill River Bike Tour Series: Cycles & Cemeteries Ride

We have to admit that some people were skeptical when we told them about our Cycles & Cemeteries Ride. And we can understand why. After all, a bike ride that incorporates cemetery tours is pretty unusual. But we had a plan, and on Saturday, Sept. 21, when we finally put it into play, our event turned out to be a great success. Nearly 140 riders participated on a day that featured beautiful early fall weather, interesting Civil War-related tours and fun cycling along the Schuylkill River Trail.
Photo courtesy Mike Stokes

The Cycles & Cemeteries Ride is the second ride in our Schuylkill River Trail Bike Tour Series. We designed the series to promote the Schuylkill River Trail and the connections that can be made from the trail to historic sites, downtowns and other attractions.

A cyclist rides into Laurel Hill Cemetery
The event featured a 14-mile ride along the Schuylkill River Trail (28-miles for most participants who cycled round trip). The day began at Montgomery Cemetery, where, before the ride, attendees visited four stations  set up at grave sites of Civil War figures. Pictured on the right, a tour guide tells a group about Civil War nurses buried in the cemetery. Other stations included the graves of Gettysburg Generals Zook & Hancock and veterans of the Zook Grand Army of the Republic Post.

Following the tours, riders took off on their 14-mile pedal from Norristown to the Philadelphia neighborhood of East Falls, where they had lunch and tours of Laurel Hill Cemetery. After arriving at Laurel Hill, the cyclists were given maps to the sites where Civil War notables are buried. After lunch, a living history presentation was given by perhaps the most notable Civil War veteran buried there, Gen. George Meade, who lead the Union Army at Gettysburg. But cyclists found many other items of interest at Laurel Hill, as well, including beautiful monuments, stunning views of the Schuylkill River and the burial site of Harry Kalas.

 A catered lunch was served under a tent (above)...but some preferred to eat on the lawn (right) where they could enjoy the September weather and the cemetery's lovely scenery. After lunch, tours and programs continued, and riders headed back to Montgomery Cemetery. Those who chose not to ride were shuttled back to their cars. Overall it was a terrific day, and we heard many enthusiastic comments from participants. We are grateful to our volunteers, our partners Laurel Hill and Montgomery Cemeteries, Events Unlimited who managed the ride, and our sponsors: PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources ~ National Park Service ~ Invata Intralogistics ~ Cast-Rite Metal Company ~ Translogistics, Inc. ~ 422 Commercial Realty ~ Montgomery County Community College ~ Mr. & Mrs. William Knight ~ Tri County Bicycles ~ B&G Glass ~ Brick House Restaurant ~

Friday, August 9, 2013

10th Annual Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area Art Show & Sale

Paintings in the 2013 Art Show
For the past 10 years, we have celebrated the beauty of the Schuylkill River region through an art event that has evolved and grown into the annual Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area exhibit we hold each fall. So, it's always an exciting day for our staff when the art work arrives and the judge selects the winners.

On August 5, a total of 107 pieces of art and photography were delivered to the Montgomery County Community College West Campus Gallery in Pottstown.  Dozens of talented artists came from all across the Schuylkill River Corridor to submit original pieces in a wide range of mediums and styles.

Terry Newman
Selecting the Staff Choice

The following day, the show was juried by this year's judge Terry Newman, owner of Newman Galleries in Philadelphia (which is one of the oldest galleries in the country dating back to 1865). He spent several hours examining the works and considering each piece. In the end, he selected 83 pieces to hang in the exhibit, which will open to the public on August 28 and run through October 18. In addition, Newman named three winning entries and two honorable mentions. Later, the Schuylkill River Heritage Area staff gathered at the gallery to select a Staff Choice.

2013 Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area winners:

Best of Show: Escalation by Susannah Hart Thomer; watercolor of steps outside Philadelphia Museum of Art leading to the Schuylkill River

2nd Place: Lutz Tannery by Jonathan Bond

Third Place: Pennypacker Mills Tranquility pastel by Teresa McWilliams Farina
Staff Choice: The Coyle Farm Winter Sheep watercolor by Lori Quinque-Quinn

Honorable Mention: Midnight at Memorial Hall Photograph by Walt Hug

Honorable Mention: Valley Forge, digital composite by Arnold Winkler

Visit the 10th Annual Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area Art Show & Sale at  August 28 through October 18 at the Montgomery County Community College West Campus Gallery, 16 W. High St., Pottstown. Gallery Hours: Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

15th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn Highlights

The 15th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn featured a week of fun, friendship, learning and paddling, along with mostly great weather, and some really bad weather. Overall, it was a fantastic week. Here are some of the highlights.

Sen. Dave Argall

Day 1, Saturday June 1:  

Sojourners launched from Schuylkill Haven and paddled to Port Clinton, on a warm, beautiful Saturday morning. Opening ceremonies featured Sen. Dave Argall (pictured left) and Schuylkill Co. Commissioner Gary Hess, both of whom wished the sojourners well on their 112-mile journey down the Schuylkill.
Programs at lunch and evening stops focused on the Civil War. At Saturday's lunch, re-enactor Ron Long discussed the role played by Civil War chaplains.  Long (left) braved the 90-degree heat in his wool uniform. After lunch, sojourners took an exhilarating paddle through "The Chutes."
The Chutes
Re-enactor Ron Long

Day 2, Sunday June 2: 


  As they paddled from Port Clinton to Muhlenberg Township, sojourners were joined by US Congressman Charlie Dent (R-15). Dent, the first member of congress ever to participate in the Schuylkill River Sojourn, paddled to the lunch stop at Peter Yarnell Park, near Hamburg, where he addressed the sojourners. At left, Dent is seen signing the Sojourn paddle--an annual tradtion--while Jim Showalter, a veteran of all 15 sojourns, looks on.  Also at lunch, singer/songwriter Haley Sheeler, long popular with sojourners, entertained with her original music. Sojourners then paddled to the beautiful Jim Dietrich Park, in Muhlenberg Twp., where they set up camp (below) and watched a one-woman play "From Out the Fiery Furnace," about Hopewell Furnace during the Civil War.

Haley Sheeler

Day 3, Monday June 3:   

Monday's highlight is always Kelly's Rapids. Sojourners test their paddling skills through a bit of fast-moving wateroutside of Reading.
 That thrill was followed by another highlight of this year's sojourn:  Gettysburg National Park Superintendent Bob Kirby (left) spoke at lunch bout the park's array of events that will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg this summer. On a less serious note, sojourners also deemed Monday Crazy Hat Day.

Day 4, Tuesday June 4


Rich Pawling with sojourner Dave Kohler
Sojourners paddled from Gibraltar to Pottstown on another picture perfect day. They lunched at Morlatton Village, where they heard a presentation on Lincoln's ties to the region by Schuylkill River Heritage Area Executive Director Kurt Zwikl. Afterward, paddlers got back on the water and traveled to Pottstown's Riverfront Park. There, they heard a lively presentation on Civil War buglers by Rich Pawling of History Alive.


Day 5, Wednesday June 5:  


Leslie Richards & Jody Horton
Sojourners capped off one of the longest paddling days (17.8 miles) with a rare opportunity to lock through the restored Lock 60, the only operating lock remaining of the former Schuylkill Navigation System.  At lunch they were welcomed at Royersford's Victory Park with a cake. From there, they were accompanied to Lock 60 by Montgomery County Commissioner Leslie Richards and Planning Director Jody Horton.

Day 6, Thursday June 6: 

Andy Waskie as Gen. Meade
The Sojourn traveled along the Schuylkill Canal and back into the river, stopping at Valley Forge National Historical Park for water and lunching at Upper Merion Boathouse. This was "General's Day" of our Civil War programming theme, with a talk on by Bruce Stocking ( left) on Civil War Gen. W.S. Hancock at lunch and a living history performance by Andy Waskie on Gen. Meade at dinner.

Day 7, Friday June 7:  

The 15th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn ended on a very rainy note, but nearly 90 paddlers braved the drenching rain and made their way from Conshohocken to Boathouse Row. Those included former PA Dept. of Natural Resources Deputy Sec. for Administration John Giordano and members of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, along with one of their sponsors Saucony Creek Brewery. They stopped for lunch at the Philadelphia Canoe Club before finishing their journey at Lloyd Hall.
John Giordano

Partnership for the Delaware Estuary