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  • Writer's pictureOur Shared Waters

Perspectives on Paddling: Experiences from the 2021 Summer River Sojourns

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

By: Stacey Mulholland, Government Affairs Lead at Delaware River Basin Commission

“My favorite part was interactions with other participants, views from the river, and lunch break with DRBC presentation.” — Hana E. (2021 Schuylkill River Sojourn Scholar)

“It was an amazing experience…my first river paddle, I felt safe and welcomed by all… Very informative, [I learned] so many things I did not know about the Delaware.” — Alice P. (2021 Delaware River Sojourn Scholar)

“The Sojourn paddle was transformative for me. I had amazing conversations with other paddlers who were more experienced and I learned a lot about being on the water and the possibilities of paddling.” — Janine S. (2021 Delaware River Sojourn Scholar)

If we ever have doubts about the power of time on the river, all we have to do is read comments like those above from recent Sojourn Scholars who paddled down the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers this summer.

The Delaware River Basin Commission works to educate people about the importance of the Delaware River Basin’s water resources. Events like river sojourns, where people get real-life exposure to our region’s waterways, are great ways to learn and connect with others. The goal is that these experiences will create new stewards of our waters, helping protect these resources we all depend on.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to be a part of both the Delaware and Schuylkill River sojourns. While participants can join the sojourns with little-to-no experience, I am no stranger to a kayak. At home, I have my own kayak and love to take it out for an after-work paddle in the small lake near my home. Kayaking on a river, however, is a much different experience.

Any body of water commands respect and following the safety guidelines of paddling on lakes, creeks- and especially rivers- reduces risk and makes the experience all the more rewarding. Like many participants with or without kayaking experience, rivers intimidate me — largely for safety reasons like rapids, rocks, and the unexpected. For me organized outings with experienced safety guides provide the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and challenges of our rivers with an added measure of security. Don’t get me wrong the challenges on a river paddle make it exhilarating! We heard from multiple people that they gained confidence in their abilities and their own strength as a result of the sojourns, in addition to their newfound appreciation for the rivers.

For anyone considering participating in a Delaware or Schuylkill River sojourn, I recommend it highly. 2021 Schuylkill River Sojourn Scholar Fran Newell’s compelling account of her experience is the best testimonial, though:

I was privileged to be offered the opportunity to take part in one day of kayaking during the Schuylkill River Sojourn trip this August. I was nervous and apprehensive when the day was upon me. I am very impulsive to sign up for opportunities that I would not normally be able to experience but questioned my ability and age to fully participate.

Once I showed up at the site my fears disappeared. I saw immediately there were people of all ages. When I started conversing with people, I learned they were eager to share the vast amount of knowledge and variety of experience they have with kayaking.

Along the river's edge, I saw experienced kayakers helping others, sharing tips and strategies for a smooth trip. I can say once I climbed into my kayak, I felt empowered and excited to begin the journey. Along the river run, I saw such teamwork and encouragement and learned safety and patience. I soon became a part of the swift current and felt a deep sense of peace when coasting along with the calm parts of the river.

The beautiful scenery along the way was captivating. I followed the blue herons across the river into the marsh, the towering stone bridges above us were incredible, the people fishing, or taking a stroll on the walkways above were so inspiring with their waves and shouts of encouragement. By midday, I felt like I was on this journey for more than a few hours. I began to feel like I knew everyone for more than a day as if they were old friends. I bonded with another scholarship recipient for the day and became friends. I learned very quickly it is not so easy taking a picture when in a kayak, a skill that I will need to work on.

I learned so much about our waterways from the Delaware River Basin Commission and the Schuylkill River Greenways on the importance of keeping them clean and how even current and rainfall affects them. I was enlightened with facts that I just never thought about until this journey and it has impacted my personal goal to reduce my own carbon footprint and educate others around me.

By the end of the journey, I was exhausted and yet filled with such a sense of accomplishment. I was encouraged by those who did more than one day and marveled at the ones who participated in the full trip. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Connecting with our shared waters is a powerful experience and one we hope everyone will find an opportunity to do in their own way. We hope to see both familiar and new faces on next year's sojourns!



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