"I had no idea this was here. I had no idea it was this beautiful. I had no idea we would see this much wildlife. I had no idea that this was just in my backyard."

Those were some of the comments heard by Chris Kocher from people on their first Lehigh River Sojourn.

Kocher, the president of the Wildlands Conservancy, sponsor of the Lehigh River Sojourn is excited to offer this access to the Lehigh River for the 14th year.

"If you ever thought about experiencing the Lehigh River, this is the best time to do it – as part of the Sojourn," Kocher said. "You have a guided trip with safety officers, and there's educational programs, and meals. It makes getting out and seeing the river relatively easy."

The 2010 Lehigh River Sojourn, an educational whitewater rafting, canoeing or kayaking trip down the Lehigh River, runs from Friday, June 25 to Monday, June 28.

Campers arriving from outside the area can set up at Mauch Chunk Lake Park on Friday, June 1.

On Saturday, June 26, the Sojourn meets at Pocono Whitewater for a rafting trip from Drakes Creek to Glen Onoko. The following day, it's canoeing and kayaking from Jim Thorpe to Walnutport. The Sojourn concludes on Monday, June 28, with a canoe/kayak ramble from Walnutport to Northampton.

Each full day of the Lehigh River Sojourn will include meals, a guided river trip, available rental equipment, a return shuttle, entertainment and educational programs.

On Saturday, there will be an afternoon presentation of the IConserve program by a member of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and an evening performance by the Lehigh Valley Drum Circle.

On Sunday, Sojourn participants will help build birdhouses at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. That evening, there's entertainment by Headlong Retreat.

The Sojourn concludes on Monday with a macroinvertebrate education program at Laury's Station. The Sojourn raps that evening with closing ceremonies at the Allentown Brew Works.

"The Lehigh River Sojourn has been significant to the Lehigh community because over its 13 years, it has helped connect people to this resource that is right in their backyards," Kocher explained.

"The Lehigh River was once too polluted to use for recreation, "he added. "The changes in the river have been pretty dramatic from a quality perspective, a macroinvertebrate and a pH perspective."

The Wildlands Conservancy has been active in the revitalization of the Lehigh River. Only 50 years ago, the Lehigh River was beginning its recovery from 150 years as first a dammed industrial artery, and then an open sewer for municipal and industrial wastes.

"In a 1967 study, the pH was measured in Lehighton as 4.9," Kocher noted.

A pH of 4.9 is harmful to aquatic life. It was caused by acid mine drainage. The Wildlands has successfully helped to reduce the sources of acid mine drainage to the point that a measurement at that location is practically 7.0, or equal to that of pure water. Reducing the acid level has aided the populations of macroinvertebrate bugs that live under the rocks in the Lehigh River and are a source of food for the fish.

The Wildlands has also led the effort to manage the flow from the Francis E. Walter Dam to maintain sufficiently cool summer water flows to classify the Lehigh River as a trout fishery.

"The changes we have seen in the community's interest in the Lehigh River has been phenomenal," Kocher said. "When I started with the Wildlands 15 years ago, if we saw someone on the river in a canoe or a kayak, we figured we knew them because we knew all the people that were out there using the river because it was not greatly utilized. Today, there are many more using the river because the quality has improved, because we have additional access points, and because events like the Lehigh River Sojourn help them understand that this resource is here."

Registration information is available at www.wildlandspa.org. Preregistration is required. The registration deadline is Friday, June 11. For more information, contact Elizabeth McKinney at (610) 965-4397 ext. 126 or email: emckinney@wildlandspa.org.