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. 

Midway through the "hidden river"

I cannot believe we are approaching the halfway point! Day 5 of the sojourn is here! Did you know that Schuylkill is PA Dutch for Hidden River?

Most areas we are paddling past have been converted from forest, meadow, and wetlands to agriculture, and urban and suburban developments. 

 In the past, "point source pollution" from industry was the biggest concern. Many Sojourners have been telling me stories of what the river was like when the textile factories were still open, and how dye factories turned the river crazy colors. 

But today, as the amount of land being developed increases, "non point source pollution" is the biggest challenge for much of the watershed. Non point source pollution doesn't have one identifying place to target, such as a factory.

There are many sites of the pollution, as trash, contaminants, and sediments run off of any building roofs, pavement, agricultural fields, construction sites, etc. When rainwater runs into a meadow, forest, or wetland, these ecosystems hold the water, slowing its journey to the Schuylkill. Additionally, slowing the water down through a wetland cleans out pollutants and provides habitat to support more biodiversity. This is a picture of a rain garden a Jim Dietrich Park, which captures and holds some of the water that runs off from the park's lawns.

With development, we speed up the water's journey. Water travels over building roofs and pavement instead of percolating down into the groundwater. In the past, our urban and suburban areas were designed to get the water out of the way, and  many drains go straight to streams or rivers. So, this alone causes an enormous amount of pollution.

Stormwater carries any of the pesticides, fertilizers, trash, oils, etc that was on the pavement, and dumps it straight into the river.  Additionally, speeding up the water leads to flooding down river, which can be very destructive for communities. 

So, it's so important that the communities upstream manage their stormwater for the sale of the river, and the communities downstream!

All week I have been testing the water quality. I will be sharing more about the gradual changes we see as we get into river sections that are more and more surrounded by development!

One way of tackling this issue is to focus on reducing peak flows and flooding, and work to reduce volume of run off. Many municipalities take this on as part of the MS4 requirements- "municipal separate storm sewer system." This is a planned way to move, manage, and control storm water. MS4 takes a lot of work and planning, but you can get involved by joining your municipality's environmental action council. There is a lot more you can do around your home as well! 

Here's a photo of a well designed parking lot at Pottstown Riverfront Park! Breaking up the pavement by adding in trees and swales helps more water soak into the ground, and less run  off to our river. 

 Upstream, we don't see the costs of stormwater run-off that communities downstream pay for water treatment. Working to restore and protect the Schuylkill river isn't just about healthy wildlife and a beautiful river for recreation. Protecting the river is about healthy people, and vibrant communities!!So