The Schuylkill River is one of five rivers in the running for the 2014 Pennsylvania River of the Year.
Pennsylvania’s River of the Year is an honor designed to elevate public awareness of specific rivers and recognize important conservation needs and achievements. River of the Year designations have been presented annually since 1983. The Pennsylvania River of the Year program is administered by the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers.
The River of the Year is selected by a public, online voting process that began Nov. 25 and ends Dec. 27. To vote, simply go online to the pariveroftheyear.org voting page and click on the “vote” link for Schuylkill River. Only one vote per person is allowed.
Last year, the Schuylkill was a finalist for the 2013 River of the Year. Although the Monongahela ultimately won by a narrow margin, voters showed strong support for the Schuylkill, which earned 8,010 votes to the Mon’s 8,156 - a less than 1 percent difference of only 146 votes.
“We’d like to see the Schuylkill get the awareness and recognition it deserves,” said Schuylkill River Heritage Area Executive Director Kurt Zwikl. “We’re asking everyone who lives in or near a river community, or who has spent time along the river, to vote for the Schuylkill.”
The Schuylkill runs 128-miles through a variety of settings, from its rural headwaters in Schuylkill County to its confluence with the Delaware in Philadelphia. It played an important role in American history, figuring into Gen. Washington’s strategy during the American Revolution’s 1777 Philadelphia Campaign. It later served as a transportation route during the Industrial Revolution, when coal was carried down the Schuylkill Canal to fuel factories and steel mills across the nation.
But the river’s most inspiring story is perhaps the environmental one. The Schuylkill was on the brink of becoming a wasteland until, in 1945, the state of Pennsylvania agreed to undertake the Schuylkill River Project. It was the first major government-funded environmental cleanup, and it dredged millions of tons of coal silt from the river.
In roughly half a century, the Schuylkill has gone from being one of the nation’s most polluted bodies of water to becoming a popular recreational destination for canoeists, kayakers, trail users and anglers. The Schuylkill is a source of drinking water for 1.5 million people, and waterfront communities all along the river corridor are now using those waterfronts to bolster community revitalization efforts.
“We like to call the Schuylkill the River of Revolutions, in recognition of the role it played in the American, Industrial and Environmental Revolutions,” said Zwikl. “Now it’s experiencing a fourth revolution, as it sheds its industrial persona and has begun serving a valuable recreation and tourism need.”
The Schuylkill River Heritage Area has been named as the lead agency in the 2014 River of the Year nomination for the Schuylkill. The Heritage Area has long championed the river as a valuable natural and recreational resource. It has hosted the annual 112-mile Schuylkill River Sojourn every June since 1999.
If the river is selected as River of the Year it won’t be for the first time. In 1999, the Schuylkill was awarded that title. Now, 16 years later, a great deal has changed in the Schuylkill River Valley, and it is once again up for that honor.
The Schuylkill is up against four other rivers for the 2014 River of the Year honor: Kiskiminetas-Conemaugh Rivers in the southwest; Ohio in the west; Brodhead Creek Watershed in the northeast; and West Branch of the Susquehanna in the north central section of the state.
Nominations were based on each waterway’s conservation needs and successes, as well as celebration plans should the nominee be voted 2014 River of the Year. In cooperation with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, selection of public voting choices was overseen by the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers (POWR), an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
After a waterway is chosen for the annual honor, local groups implement a year-round slate of activities and events to celebrate the river, including a paddling trip, or sojourn. The organization nominating the winning river will receive a $10,000 leadership grant to help fund their River of the Year activities.
The Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area, managed by the non-profit Schuylkill River Greenway Association, uses conservation, education, recreation, historic and cultural preservation and tourism as tools for community revitalization and economic development.