After finishing as runner-up last year, the Schuylkill River is once again one of five finalists for the "2014 Pennsylvania River of the Year," and online voting is underway through Friday, Dec. 27. Last year, the Monongahela edged out the Schuylkill for 2013 honors by the final vote of 8,156-8,010, and the Lehigh River is a previous winner.

"River of the Year" is an honor designed to elevate public awareness of specific Pennsylvania rivers and recognize their important conservation needs and achievements. Designations have been presented annually since 1983 by the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers.

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. It 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.

Along its 128 miles the Schuylkill runs 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. George Washington's strategy during the American Revolution's 1777 Philadelphia Campaign.

Later, the Schuylkill 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. Only one vote may be cast per email address and may be cast online at www.schuylkillriver.org.

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Beginning today and continuing through Sunday, Jan. 5, the Audubon Society's 114th Annual Christmas Bird Count is being conducted. Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Division head Dan Brauning encourages sportsmen to join the tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the United States and participate in the project, which makes an indispensible contribution to conservation because it monitors bird species that spend winters in Pennsylvania.

This project is the longest-running citizen-science survey in the world, and the data collected through the count allows researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. Local counts will occur on one day and volunteers pick the most convenient date or dates to participate.

"Some of these species are much easier to count or monitor in winter because their breeding ground is so far north in areas where there are few people or roads to give access to habitat," Brauning said. "Birds are easier to spot because the trees lack the leaves that hide them in spring and summer.

"There are fewer bird species around in winter than at other times of year, so it is easier to learn bird species identification. In fact, many birders got started in this hobby in winter in a car with more experienced birders on a Christmas count."

Registration to participate in the Christmas Bird Count is available on the Audubon website at www.audubon.org .

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ArtsQuest and the Lehigh Valley's Trout Unlimited chapters are raising funds for streamside habitat improvement through a charitable screening of "Kiss the Water," a film which portrays the life of Megan Boyd, a Scot famous for her Atlantic salmon flies, Tuesday, Dec. 17, beginning at 7:15 p.m., at ArtsQuest Center's Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem.

Doors open at 6 p.m. for fly-tying demonstrations by Trout Unlimited members, and enjoy the ArtsQuest Center's Mike & Ike Bistro. For tickets and information, visit www.artsquest.org or call 610-332-3378.

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Sunday's edition of "Experience The Outdoors," hosted by award-winning Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association member Doyle Dietz, at 7 a.m. on 1410-AM WLSH, at 9:30 a.m. on Magic 105.5-FM and on the Web at www.wmgh.com by clicking the link to the program, features National Muzzle Loader Rifle Association Longhunter Society chairman Dave Ehrig.

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Applications are being accepted from current high school sophomores and juniors for participation in the Youth Education Summit sponsored by the National Rifle Association, which will be held Monday-Sunday, June 23-29, in Washington, D.C.

Information on the NRA Youth Education Summit is available by calling 1-800-672-3888, ext. 1351, or by email at yes@nrahq.org mailto:yes@nrahq.org .

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Copies of the 2013 Pennsylvania Big Game Records book are available from the Pennsylvania Game Commission online at The Outdoor Shop, www.pgc.state.pa.us, or by calling 1-888-888-3459, or mailing remittance to: PA Game Commission, Dept. MS, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, Pa. 17110-9797. Copies are $5, plus shipping and handling, and Pennsylvania residents also pay 6 percent sales tax.