By Brenda Maguire
After waiting about an hour past the 5 p.m. expected arrival time, staff and spectators were greeted by the glimmer of kayak paddles on the horizon June 6.
Within minutes, the Allegheny Aqueduct Park in Gibraltar had turned into quite the scene. Kayakers came in very quickly, sometimes four at a time. One kayak even ran into a tree. The Schuylkill River Sojourn staff had one question: Why were they so late?
“We had two spots where we had to go single file, like at the Reading Power Plant,” explained Judy Kuhns of Auburn, Pa. “We had Kelly Rapids this morning. It’s very fast, rapid water and there you have to go one at a time so it’s a few spots where you must go one at a time and with something like 118 boats it takes awhile.”
More than 230 paddlers took part in the 13th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn, kayaking all or part of 113 miles from Schuylkill County to Philadelphia.
John Lysaght of West Deptford, N.J. has been participating in the Sojourn for seven years.
“This year is the best year we’ve had, I think,” he said. “The waters are at the perfect height, the rapids are really fun, there are not a lot of rock areas and everything just flows downstream. It’s just been a blast.”
This year, the theme for the Sojourn was conservation. The Schuylkill River Heritage Area teamed up with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to create programs for the sojourners throughout their trip.
“At every stop along the way, they’re having different speakers coming in to talk to us about different things with conservation,” said Lysaght.
“They spoke some about different geological formations coming along the way and the effects we have on the river and the river has on us.”
The Sojourn started on June 4 at Schuylkill Haven Island Park. They paddled through Port Clinton, Muhlenberg Township, Gibraltar, Pottstown, Mont Clare, West Conshohocken and ended at Boathouse Row in Philadelphia on June 11.
Lysaght said the sojourners are not over worked on their journey.
“I tend to gain weight every time they do it. They really do a good job, they feed us well and we have plenty of rest stops,” he said.
Lysaght also enjoys getting to see friends from year to year at the sojourn.
“For a lot of us it’s kind of like a reunion. We get to see a lot of people we only see once a year, but the neat thing is there are also a lot of new people each year,” he said. “So, we’re introducing new people, some people who have never been in a kayak come on this.”
Mike Walter of Spring City, Pa. participated in the sojourn for the first time this year.
“I read about it in the paper the last two years and I decided I would give it a try,” he said. “You don’t really need too much experience. There are all different age groups and all kinds of people here and there are plenty of safety people to make sure you are not in trouble.”
Although he is one of the new guys, Walter was not shy to bring out his sense of humor right away on the sojourn.
“I wore an Elvis mask on the first day, coming through the last part. That kind of got everyone excited. It was pretty cool,” he said. “There was an Elvis sighting the first day. I’ll probably wear it on the last day, too.”