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.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

12th Annual Scenes of the Schuylkill Art Show

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance -- Aristotle
Each year, when we host the annual Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area art exhibit, we invite artists to celebrate not only the beauty of the region, but its inward significance. We are never disappointed. In fact, we are consistently amazed by the talented artists who are inspired by the river, landscapes and other sites that makeup the Schuylkill River region. This year was no exception. We think it is the show's best year yet. On October 26, a total of 163 pieces of art and photography were delivered to the Montgomery County Community College West Campus Gallery in Pottstown.  By comparison, last year, we received 112 submissions.

This year's judge, Charles Stainback (shown left), Director of Art at the Berman Museum, Ursinus College had the difficult job of jurying the show. He selected 92 works overall, named three winning entries and two honorable mentions (See winners below), and then went one step further, picking three "Judge's Selections." In addition, he chose a total of 15 pieces that will be exhibited at Valley Forge National Historical Park from Jan. 13-Dec. 11. A staff choice award was also determined by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area staff.

I must admit the process of selecting works for this exhibition was exceedingly difficult. Difficult first because of the number of entries received, but more importantly because of the consistent quality of all the works, from the very first thing that I looked at to the last. Truly, virtually everything was first rate.                                                                      Charles Stainback, judge  

 Visit our website to learn more about the art show.

2015 Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area winners:

Best of Show: Listening Woods, oil, by Helen Mirkil
2nd Place: Memento Mori,oil on wood by, Jonathan Bond
3rd Place: Autumn Reflections, pastel, by Cathy Grygiel
Staff Choice: Wissahickon in the Fall, watercolor, by Susannah Hart Thomer
Honorable Mention: Festival, watercolor by Lori Quinque Quinn
Honorable Mention: Pine Woods Trail, oil by Russell Slocum

Visit the 12th Annual Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area Art Show & Sale from November 9 through December 11 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.

 Visit our website to learn more about the art show.

Monday, July 27, 2015

10 Ways to Celebrate the Schuylkill River Trail's Designation as Best Urban Trail

The Schuylkill River Trail came in first place in USA Today's 10 Best Reader's Choice Awards, beating out 20 other trails from around the country. We couldn't be happier, and if you use the trail you probably want to celebrate the trail's newest honor. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Explore the trail: Sure, the SRT was named best urban trail, but what makes it so terrific is the varied landscape it traverses. So take an hour or two to get to know a different section of the trail. Ride from Pottstown to Reading, for example. Or take a day trip up to Hamburg and ride six miles (12, round trip) on the very scenic section known as the Bartram Section. Visit our website at for maps and trail head locations. Or pick

2. Take a walk on the Boardwalk: The Schuylkill River Boardwalk (pictured at top) is the trail's newest amenity. Built to extend the trail in Philadelphia past Locust Street, this 2,000-foot long structure allows trail users to literally walk, ride or jog on top of the water. This beautiful addition to the trail opened last fall and has been extremely popular. If you haven't visited it, now's a great time to see one of the Best Urban Trail's best urban features.

3. Pick up a Free Trail Map: Our popular, full-color, accordion-style Schuylkill River Trail Brochures area available at trail heads and other visitor locations. The map shows completed, on-road and planned sections of the entire trail. Click here for a list of sites carrying the maps
 4.  Bike the Trail: If you haven't ridden on the trail, you're missing out. The section from Phoenixville to Philadelphia is mostly paved, and it's flat, making for a nice, easy ride. The Chester County piece, from Phoenixville to Parkerford, is gravel and shady. And the Pottstown to Reading section is also mostly gravel and tree canopied, with a paved piece in Pottstown. Wherever you ride, we can pretty much guarantee a fun and often peaceful experience.

5. Borrow a bike:  In Pottstown, Phoenixville and Hamburg, you can take advantage of our completely free bike share, Bike Pottstown and Bike Schuylkill to take a ride on the trail. The program's signature yellow cruisers (above) are available to anyone age 16 or older at absolutely no cost, and you can use them for an entire day if you want. Visit for more details.

6. Learn about the Trail: Did you know, for example, that the trail will one day total 130 miles? Today, there are about 60 miles complete. It is being built in sections by a number of partners who own and maintain various sections of the trail. You can learn more by visiting
Trail Ambassadors on the Trail's Thun Section in Berks Co.
7. Volunteer!: In Berks and Schuylkill Counties, the trail is managed and maintained by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, which relies on Trailkeepers to help with upkeep and Trail Ambassadors to assist trail users. In fact, volunteers play a key role along most sections of the trail. Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities.

8. Become a Trail Advocate: It takes many organizations to build the trail, and those organizations seek support in many different ways. You can learn more about Greater Philadelphia's Regional Trail Network at  Or to learn about other organizations that build and maintain the trail here.

9. Experience the Schuylkill River Water Trail:  The Schuylkill River has many areas that are great for kayaking and canoeing. The Schuylkill River Water Trail Guide pinpoints access points and hazards to make recreational boating on the river safe and accessible. Or take a guided paddle with Take it Outdoors Adventures, which offers kayak rentals, shuttles and regular kayaking events on the river.

10. Celebrate with an SRT Ale!: This spring, Sly Fox Brewery debuted its seasonal Ale for the Trail, known as SRT Ale. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Schuylkill River Heritage Area in support of the trail. So after you've ridden, hiked, jogged you can top off the day with an SRT Ale and know that you've done your part to support the trail.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Highlights from the 17th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn

The 17th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn was one for the record books. We had 73 paddlers make the full 112-mile journey. That's more full-trippers than we've ever had in the event's 17-year history. We also filled each day with the maximum number of boats on the river (about 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, filled with friendship, laughter, a few water fights and, oh yeah, paddling. Lots of paddling. Overall, it was an amazing week. Here are some of the highlights.

Friday June 5

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. Paddlers were invited to climb aboard or just look at and learn more about the anthracite coal fired engine is an important piece of Schuylkill County's history. Several of our staff members climbed aboard and, yeah, we pulled the whistle.

Day 1, Saturday June 6:  

Before the launch
The Chutes
Sojourners launched from Schuylkill Haven and paddled to Port Clinton. Rain earlier in the week made for absolutely perfect water levels. Watching over 100 kayaks launch on their 112-mile journey is always an impressive site. Check out this video on YouTube taken by our photographer Ted Danforth. See his photos here.
Our program theme this year was Schuylkill Canal: Legacy & Landmarks. At Saturday's lunch, Schuylkill Haven Historian Rick Nagle gave a presentation about the Early Days of the Canal.  After lunch, sojourners took an exhilarating paddle through "The Chutes."

Day 2, Sunday June 7: 

As they paddled from Port Clinton to Muhlenberg Township, sojourners portaged Kernsville Dam. Shortly before the portage, the flotilla of kayaks as filmed by this drone video taken by Al Kershner.  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 and heard an entertaining presentation about Women on the Canal by re-enactor Nancy Bossler from the Berks County Heritage Center.

Day 3, Monday June 8:   

Crazy Hat Day!

Monday of the sojourn is always one of the most popular days of this seven day adventure.  For one thing it features Kelly's Rapids, just outside of Reading, and for another it's Crazy Hat Day!. This year, there were more crazy hats than ever! Sojourners also learned about the canal in Reading at lunch, and, in the evening, about the Allegheny Aqueduct that served to carry canal boats over the creek. While camping in Allegheny Aqueduct Park, sojourners braved a severe thunderstorm. Some took refuge in the historic Beidler House on the property, even though we were told it is "definitely haunted!"

Pottstown Dragon Warriors

Day 4, Tuesday June 9

Sojourners paddled from Gibraltar to Pottstown. They lunched at Morlatton Village, where they heard a presentation by fellow paddler Dave Kohler about the Irish contribution to the Canal. Afterward paddlers were joined on the water by the Pottstown Dragon Warriors, who traveled with them to Pottstown's Riverfront Park and offered sojourners an opportunity to test out dragon boating. Another highlight of the day: we were joined on the water by our new Executive Director Silas Chamberlin (left). And Reading Eagle reporter Paige Cooperstein also joined us and wrote this first person account of her journey. The evening ended with a band playing music by the river.

A Group Shot at Lock 60

Day 5, Wednesday June 10:  

Sojourners capped off one of the longest paddling days (17.8 miles) with an annual tradition of
locking 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 some delicious local foods, including a fun box of Schuylkill Mud candy from Sweet Ashley's. In the evening, sojourners were entertained by author Charlie Adams who talked about the Schuylkill Rangers, a group of pirates who once terrorized canal boats.

Norristown Dragon Boat Club

Day 6, Thursday June 11: 

Sojourners continued on to West Conshohocken. They stopped at Valley Forge National Historical Park for lunch, where park Ranger Deirdre Gibson talked about the desilting basing  in the park. Once again this year, the Norristown Boat Club accompanied us for part of the trip and allowed some kayakers to take a turn in the Dragon Boat. In the evening, after a delicious dinner of barbeque ribs and chicken, Kay Sykora of Destination Schuylkill River talked about the Manayunk Canal.

Heading to the final take out in Philly (Photo: Gene Miller)

Day 7, Friday June 12:  

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 on INVISIBLE RIVER'S performances that celebrate the river. A reporter from Billy Penn joined us for this leg of the journey. You can read her excellent first person account here.

To learn more about the sojourn or to sign up for our email updates visit our website at