Sojourn teaches future Lehigh River stewards
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Jerry Mistal, left, chair of the volunteers on the Lehigh River Sojourn Committee, Ashley Oleszczuk, Adele Zagofsky, Jon Meade, executive director of the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers; and Drew carry their raft through Drakes Creek under the stone-arched Lehigh Valley Railroad Bridge toward launching into the Lehigh River.
For the 14th year, the Wildlands Conservancy has run a school for Lehigh River stewards the Lehigh River Sojourn.
An average of 100 participants each day cover more than 10 miles on the Lehigh River, from the center of Lehigh Gorge State Park to Walnutport
The sojourn began early on the warm Saturday morning of June 26, to raft the Lehigh Gorge with Pocono Whitewater, which has hosted the first day of the sojourn since it began. The trip was on a scheduled whitewater release from the Francis E. Walter Dam.
"About 750 cubic feet per second were released," said Doug Fogal, an owner of Pocono Whitewater and a member of the rafting trip's guide staff.
After a breakfast catered by the White Haven Bakery, a safety briefing, and a bus ride to the Drake's Creek put-in, the members of the sojourn were assigned six to a raft. Each team carried its raft through Drakes Creek under the stone-arched Lehigh Valley Railroad Bridge and launched into the Lehigh River. Members of the Wildlands Conservancy took photographs at the first rock formation, Dragon Lady.
At White Falls, Mile Long, and Bridal Veil, the rafters enjoyed whitewater rapids. At lunch near Bear Creek, Rob Neitz of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, spoke about the IConserve Program, iconservepa.org.
"This year's theme is trees and forests," he said. "Trees benefit the environment by providing shade, filtering water, absorbing carbon dioxide, and producing oxygen."
That evening, there was a performance by the Lehigh Valley Drum Circle.
On Sunday, the sojourn went canoeing and kayaking from Jim Thorpe to Walnutport. At lunch, they built birdhouses at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. That evening, the Headlong Retreat entertained.
The sojourn concluded on Monday with a macroinvertebrate education program at Laury's Station. The Sojourn's concluding program is its annual Wildlands Conservancy's Friend of the Lehigh River Award, held Monday evening at the Allentown Brew Works.
The award recipients were: Jan Creedon, Lehigh County; Diane Kripas, DCNR Bureau of Recreation and Conservation; the late John Schneller, of the Lehigh Valley Kayak and Canoe Club; and the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
"The preservation and protection of one of the Lehigh Valley's most vital resources is a collaborative effort among many individuals, organizations, and government bodies. This award allows Wildlands Conservancy to applaud those who make a conscious effort to either protect the Lehigh River or educate others on its importance," said Christopher Kocher, president of the conservancy.
Jon Meade, executive director of Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, joined this year's sojourn. POWR is a nonprofit organization helping local watershed organizations protect watersheds and water quality.
"We run a grant program fronted by DCNR that helps a statewide sojourn program take place," he explained. "We support up to 12 sojourns each year in Pennsylvania multiday paddling trips that help build stewardship and awareness of rivers around the state."
The sojourn is aided by a summer whitewater release schedule that has made the Lehigh River more accessible for paddlers and helped develop it as a trout fishery. The Wildlands Conservancy coordinated development of a Lehigh River Management Plan that, over the past five years, has led to this plan of releases.
During the first Lehigh Sojourn, the water level was so low, that a paddling trip was not possible. Instead, the sojourn became a bicycle trip.
"We did it by accident that first year," said Kocher. "Later, we scheduled a day of rafting and a day of biking."