Friday, October 13, 2017

Highlights from our 2nd Ride for the River

We couldn't have asked for a more perfect fall day for our 2nd Annual Ride for the River on Sept. 30: a chill in the air, leaves crunching under our tires, and a mix of sun and clouds (but no rain!). This is only the second year we've held the ride, and we were pleased to welcome over 300 cyclists who pedaled 16 or 40 miles from Pottstown to Reading along the Schuylkill River Trail. Once again, we teamed up with Sly Fox Brewing Company, and participants ended the day at the Sly Fox Can Jam Festival, where they were treated to a hard earned free beer, a choice of festival food and eight hours of free live music. Here are some of the highlights.

We had great volunteers:
In addition to our staff and dedicated board members, an incredible team of over 50 volunteers and 10 fire police really made this ride a success. Volunteers preened the trail, marked the route, packed t-shirts, manned rest stops, posted signs, directed parking, and kept check in lines running smoothly. Perhaps most significantly, we placed volunteers or fire police at numerous road intersections to usher them across traffic safely safety--a feature that many cyclists noted was much appreciated. We also had members of the Bike Sport/Sly Fox racing team assist with minor repairs during the ride. And we were fortunate to have Bike Sport and Trek Bicycle of Pottstown on hand to check bikes and pump up tires. And, oh yeah, many of the photos in this blog were taken by volunteer photographer Walt Hug. See more photos here

A great day for a ride
Weather is something we can't control. So, we won't take credit for the fact that the rain held off and the breeze was cool, but not cold. But we will say, that the mild temperatures made it particularly pleasant to be cycling along the mostly leafy section of the Schuylkill River Trail from Pottstown to Reading.

A beautiful trail experience:
Many of the participants told us how much they enjoyed riding on the Pottstown-to-Reading section of the the Schuylkill River Trail. We were pleased to hear that. This is a section of the Schuylkill River Trail that our organization--the Schuylkill River Heritage Area--owns and maintains. We know it is among the most scenic sections of the trail, and we were happy to be able to introduce more people to it through Ride for the River.

It supported the Schuylkill River Trail:
Since we maintain over 30 miles of the trail in Berks and Schuylkill Counties, we are grateful for the money raised through Ride for the River. The proceeds from Ride for the River will enable us to improve the trail that is already built, and expand into areas that are not yet complete. When finished, the Schuylkill River Trail will run about 130 miles. Today, about 60 miles are complete, and we are committed to adding miles to it as land and funds allow.

The fun continued at the Sly Fox Can Jam Festival: All participants received a voucher for free Sly Fox beer and food at the Can Jam Festival. Many stayed to listen to the terrific live bands that played throughout the day.

We accepted a check from Sly Fox Brewery: A portion of the proceeds from Sly Fox's seasonal
SRT Ale goes to support the Schuylkill River Trail. At the Can Jam Festival, Brew Master Brian O'Reilly presented our Executive Director Elaine P. Schaefer with a check for $4,027. We are grateful to Sly Fox for this very generous donation and we extend our thanks to everyone who drank SRT Ale this summer! This marks the third year in a row that Sly Fox Brewery has presented us with over $4,000 for the trail. That money goes toward our Safe Crossing program to make road crossings along the trail safer for trail users. Last year, two road crossings were improved along Route 724, one in Union Township and the other in Cumru Township. We plan to continue this program, adding more signs and line markings at other crossings.

We raffled off a kayak!
Our goal in organizing Ride for the River is to help connect people to the Schuylkill River. A bike ride along the river is a great way to experience the beauty of this region. And so is kayaking! We raffled off a bright-red Emotion kayak throughout the Can Jam Festival. Congratulations to Rich Munyan, whose name was chosen randomly from hundreds of raffle tickets sold at the festival. We wish him many happy hours paddling on the river!

We can't wait to do it again next year.
We surveyed ride participants and asked them to rate their experience for Ride for the River and virtually all respondents rated it either excellent (77%) or good (26%). Many of them also gave us tips on what they'd like to see us add in coming years. We intend to take that advice to heart, and make this an even better ride next year!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Final Days on the Schuylkill Sojourn!

Day 6 of the Sojourn started out by taking us down the Schuylkill Canal near Phoenixville!

Paddling the canal was a pretty interesting detour. We veered off to pass through Lock 60, and slowed down to paddle a parallel, man-made version of the river that carried tons of coal, lumber, and textiles to Philadelphia in the 1800s and early 1900s. Just a few hours later, after Valley Forge, it felt like a different world when we came across 422 bridge construction.

The blue bridge of 476 signaled the approach of our last night's camp in West Conshocken, and the landscape slowly but surely started to feel more urban. As the day wound down, we heard more and more trains and cars, even as we continued to paddle past trees. Incredibly, just before this spot we also spotted a Bald Eagle flying overheard! 

Our last night was a pretty, let's say, unique urban camping adventure! It was pretty funny to pitch our tents (and enjoy an amazing barbeque) on the hiding-in-plain-sight grassy patch near the West Philadelphia Marriott!

Our last day was blue skies and sun, and the clouds, rain and choppy water of Port Clinton felt like a million years ago.

Our last portage of the Sojourn included our last safety talk by Allan Quant of Canoe Susquehanna, as we approached a patch of whitewater after the Flat Rock Dam! 

During the portage stop, I was, of course, busy listening to the safety talk! But, I was also pretty stoked to stop for a second and check out this fish ladder on the dam, something I had been looking forward to all week! Dams halt the journeys of migratory fish and eels, as migratory species swimming upriver to spawn can't swim up the dam. Dams along the Schuylkill (like many other rivers) have irrevocably changed wildlife populations in the river. However, installing fish ladders has provided a way forward for the return of migratory species, such as shad! Fish ladders slow down and angle the water flow to a speed that fish can manage on their epic journeys upstream (some swim all the way from the Atlantic!). However, much more work remains to rebuild habitat on the river for fish and other wildlife. As I looked down on the fish ladder, I thought about a talk by one of our incredible speakers this week, Richard Horowitz, PhD, the Drexel University Professor and Fisheries Section Leader at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Dr. Horowitz spoke with us about fish in the Schuylkill River watershed way back on Sunday, in Muhlenberg at Jim Dietrich Park.

 Dr. Horowitz shared that we will never truly know the extent of the biodiversity and abundance of the Schuylkill before dams, industrial pollution, deforestation, and the filling in of wetlands and estuaries took their toll on wildlife habitat and water quality. However, his key take-away was an incredible enthusiasm about the diversity of life the Schuylkill supports, especially as the river continues to be restored! If we continue to work to protect the Schuylkill, and increase our efforts, it's very exciting to wonder about the future discoveries that remain to be made by studying the biology, ecology, and resilience of the Schuylkill. As I tested the water all week, it was truly incredible to see indicators of high levels of water quality. 

More and more bridges as we approached Philadelphia!

The river provides a pretty interesting viewpoint of moments like this from Manayunk, where brand new condos have been built right next to old, intricate stone walls. The conservation challenges have shifted with time and economic development as well, as we now work to slow down the journey of storm water from roofs and pavement!

Philadelphia Water Authority Treatment Plant!

Lunch at the Philadelphia Canoe Club!

The awarding of the Stickers for full trip participants! 

I am going to miss spending every day being surrounded by the colorful sea of kayaks.

Turtles and storm drains! 

As we paddled towards the city, the banks changed from wooded and industrial, and the river became a place of recreation and so much urban life on a sunny Friday afternoon. Scullers passed us as we paddled past joggers, cyclists, and plenty of people out enjoying the afternoon on the grass!

Finally, we reached Boathouse Row and that Philly Skyline!!

Growing up outside of Reading, the part of the river that is most familiar to me is by Birdsboro. I spent many lazy summer days tubing and swimming on that stretch of the river, and plotting with my sisters to someday go all the way from Reading to Boathouse Row. And it happened! (I left my sisters behind though. Maybe I can convince them to join the Sojourn next summer....)

Packing up was pretty surreal, as we hauled ourselves and our boats into the city. A day later, it's still strange that the Sojourn is over. I am compiling all of my data from testing the water quality, so check back soon to find out my conclusions! 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Day 5 on the river sojourn!

"Any day on the river is a good day" - -> overheard from a Sojourner in the rain. But...we were glad for a break from the rain yesterday. We enjoyed a calm day paddling from Pottstown to  Royersford for lunch, then onto Lock 60 near Phoenixeville. 

The colorful rows of kayaks at all of our landing sites truly announce that the Sojourn has arrived in town! 

We were excited for burgers and sunshine at lunch, and we heard from some people who do amazing work!

We heard about stewardship of the river from several levels. Secretary Dunn from DCNR, and Secretary Richards from PennDOT joined us to paddle for the day, and reminded us of the importance of speaking up for how much we value our natural heritage areas so we can address river and landscape protection on the state, regional, and local level. 

The enormity of the problem of stormwater run- off is overwhelming. But, seeing the extent and scope of the work being done all down the river, across the watershed, is truly incredible. 

 Ryan Beltz of the Perkiomen Watershed Association spoke about the work they do on the community level to protect and restore the Schuylkill's largest tributary! 

He shared about the annual Stream Clean- up that, this year, 700 people were involved with across 50 sites! And, the watershed association has developed an app where residents can geotag locations of trash, and then a crew can come clean it up. 

The Perkiomen Watershed Association also spends the summers doing environmental education and fighting the battle against invasive plants. Then in the fall season, they plant native plants and trees. Ryan shared with us their plans to plant 5,000 native plants in riparian buffers this fall! Riparian buffers are areas along streams that are wooded and shrubby, providing habitat, slowing flooding, cooling the water, and stabilizing banks to prevent erosion.

After lunch, we paddled on to Lock 60, the Schuylkill's last working lock! So very cool to see a piece of regional history in action thanks to our gracious hosts.