When the first Schuylkill River Sojourn launched in 1999, most participants had canoes, and paddling on the river was a novelty to many.
On Saturday, June 2, the annual 7-day, 112-mile guided paddle will celebrate the 20th anniversary of that first launch. It will feature paddlers of all experience levels, most of whom will travel by kayak, and nearly all have either paddled on the Schuylkill or dreamed of doing so.
The annual Schuylkill River Sojourn begins each year in Schuylkill Haven and ends a week later at Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row. Organized by the Schuylkill River Greenways NHA, it has evolved into a popular paddling event that has introduced over 4,000 people from 25 states and four foreign countries to paddling the river.
This year, participants hearken from 11 different states, some from as far away as Washington and New Mexico. A total of 70 paddlers will make the full 112-mile journey, and over 100 more will join for one or more days. Two full-trip paddlers, Carl Raring, of Pottsville, and Jim Showalter, of Reading, have participated in every sojourn since 1999.
“The 20th anniversary of the Schuylkill River Sojourn is truly a milestone worth celebrating. This is an event that is fun, popular, and has grown to be a bucket list item for many,” said Schuylkill River Greenways NHA Executive Director Elaine Paul Schaefer. “But more importantly, the sojourn draws attention to the river as a valuable natural and recreational resource. Research shows that people who recreate on a river are more likely to protect it. The sojourn has inspired thousands to have a greater appreciation for the river.”
Overall, daily attendance numbers are high for the sojourn. For safety reasons, only about 110 to 120 boats are allowed on the water each day, and most days are at or near capacity.
As dozens of colorful kayaks float down the river, the sojourn creates a spectacular scene. In river communities all along the way, people gather on bridges and overlooks to watch the sojourn pass.
Each year, to encourage participants to better understand the river, educational programs are provided at all lunch and evening stops. This year’s program theme, “Celebrating 20 Years,” will feature presentations that give a 20-year perspective on the river corridor. Topics will include the Schuylkill River Trail, invasive plants, dams, river health and more. For the third year, the Schuylkill River Greenways NHA has teamed up with the Schuylkill Action Network to hire a Sojourn Steward who will help identify animals and birds, and post photos and stories to a blog and social media.
Although the Schuylkill River Sojourn is a recreational endeavor, its primary purpose is to draw attention to the river as this region’s most critical natural resource, and as a source of drinking water for over 1.5 million people.
A detailed day-by-day itinerary for the Sojourn can be found by visiting www.schuylkillriver.org/sojourn.aspx.