Three people on the left wearing red life jackets and two people on the right, wearing hats.
Left to right: Jeannine Payne, Andre Payne Sr. and Andre Payne Jr., and Joe and Patti Pezely, just arrived from a day's paddle with the Schuylkill Sojourn. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Sojourning on the Schuylkill

| June 28, 2023

Maybe it’s just you and a friend, finding the beauty of the river for an afternoon.

Maybe it’s you and a friend and a host of new friends — as there are when you join up with the Schuylkill Sojourn or its big sister, the Delaware Sojourn.

The sojourns are a way to get to know the river by paddling on it and camping near it for as much as a week or for a day — and you and all those friends are a huge shot in the arm for riverside communities.

When the Schuylkill Sojourn was at its penultimate stop (West Conshohocken) its host — Schuylkill River Greenways — held a small celebration of its 25th year making friends along the river.

Patti and Joe Pezely from Valley Forge, were on their 10th Schuylkill River Sojourn. Asked why they keep coming back, Joe Pezely said simply: “‘Cause we like it. It’s fun.”

For the Payne family — Jeannine, Andre Sr. and Andre Jr. — it was their first trip, just for two days and an overnight, ending in Philadelphia. Despite the day spent paddling, they all wore big smiles as they trudged up from the beach.

Sojourners paddling on the Schuylkill River.
Sojourners paddling under the I-476 bridge in West Conshohocken, Pa. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Aside from the fun — of which there is plenty — there is a real economic benefit to these journeys and other outside activities, especially for the local communities that are beside the river: from renting water craft, to offering lunch or a well-deserved libation after your efforts.

Oh, and anglers!! They know the water and their sport repays river communities a hundred-fold!

“You guys are proof of concept,” said Elaine Schaefer, the executive director of Schuylkill River Greenways. “You can see how you bring economic vitality into the river towns,” she told the damp but enthusiastic audience, which she pointed out, came for the sojourn from 10 states.

There were several special guests, like Ken Lawrence Jr., chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, and Vice Chair Jamila Winder; also State Senator Amanda Cappelletti.

Most were veterans of at least some time on the river, and most promised more time next year.

When Schaefer introduced Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, she called her the Matriarch of Sojourns because Dunn originated the idea of sojourns — though not these on our rivers.

Schaffer called her a huge consistent partner and Dunn, in turn, praised Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, who has shown his commitment by creating a new position in the DCNR: Pennsylvania director of outdoor recreation. 

And that director was here as well (having also spent some time on the river): Nathan Reigner.

Not surprisingly, he delved into the nitty-gritty:

Outdoor recreation contributes $14 billion to Pennsylvania’s GDP, accounting for 1.6 percent of our overall productivity.

What’s more, developing outdoor recreation polishes Pennsylvania’s image as a great place to live.

During the sojourn, he said he met a woman from New Jersey who moved to Pennsylvania because of its outdoor recreation opportunities. (Bragging rights!) Lots more about him and the new office here.

He talked as well about the core goals of the new office: Conservation, inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility; economic and recreational development; health and wellbeing; professional capacity and knowledge building.

And another big bonus in supporting outdoor recreation that maybe isn’t quite so obvious: The more time you spend on or near a river, the more likely you are to care about it. 

Maybe getting involved in a cleanup, maybe joining one of the many groups that work together to care for the river. (Here’s a great list from the Delaware River Basin Commission, by the way.)

Both sojourns are done for this year, but you can start making plans for next year!

The other partner contributing to the success of the sojourn was the Delaware River Basin Commission. Its executive director, Steve Tambini, noted the draw of the water: “We want to be on in and in it.”

It’s only attractive now because we’re the beneficiaries of the Clean Water Act, he said, and here in the Delaware River Basin, of the work of the four states to improve water quality.

“Thank you,” he said to the sojourners, “for choosing to care.”

Then — as one of the few speakers who hadn’t been on the river — he promised that he would next year. 

“I owe you one.”

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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