16th sojourn ends
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Heading down the Lehigh River is a raft crewed by the board of directors of the Wildlands Conservancy and captained by its president, Chris Kocher, center.
After three days of whitewater rafting, kayaking and canoeing, the 16th annual Lehigh River Sojourn completed its 34-mile scenic river adventure.
The Sojourn attracted nearly 300 paddlers, beginning Saturday, June 23 with a whitewater rafting trip through the 10-mile lower Lehigh River Gorge from Drakes Creek to Glen Onoko.
It continued Sunday with a 15-mile kayaking and canoeing section from Jim Thorpe to Walnutport. The sojourn concluded on Monday with the final kayak and canoe leg from Walnutport to Northampton, with a takeout at the Tri-boro Sportsman's Club.
"We had a great day on the sojourn, said Chris Kocher, president of the Wildlands Conservancy, following the raft trip on Saturday. "We had 102 people with us today to celebrate the river, to celebrate its recovery, and its return to the life water of our communities.
"The trip is remarkably similar to our first trip 16 years ago. The biggest change is the reliability of the water out of the Francis E. Walter Dam. In the beginning, one of our biggest challenges was to know whether there was going to be sufficient water to run the trip. With the new release plan in place, it has helped significantly to know that there is going to be water for at least the whitewater rafting portion of the Sojourn," Kocher said.
Over the 16 years that the Lehigh River Sojourn has been held, the Wildlands Conservancy has worked to improve the water quality of the river. The Sojourn offers a way for people to see that improvement in water quality.
"The river is a little bit cleaner probably the cleanest that it's been in the last 150 years," Kocher continued. "Clearly, over the 16 years, we've seen major improvements in the water quality. We reduced some of the mine drainage, and increased the quality of the water in the river. We're working to clean up the tributaries.
"We're working to protect lands along the river. Tens of thousands of acres of open space has been protected. We are working to get the American shad to return to the Lehigh River. We've implemented a Lehigh River water trail and indicated access points. The D&L Trail has been established along the river. All of those things happened in the last 16 years. That's why this event is so critical to highlight that, and to get people connected with this resource."
The goal of the Lehigh River Sojourn is to educate people about the Lehigh River as a resource for the community. Each day of the sojourn, during lunch there is an education session. On Saturday, Chris Kemmerer from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spoke about the Get Outdoors PA program. He invited people to learn about a program within the DCNR to teach people how to get started in outdoor recreation.
On the second day, safety director Jerry McAward and a team of guides from Jim Thorpe River Adventures led canoeing and kayaking from Jim Thorpe to Walnutport. Midway through, the trip stopped at the East Penn Township boat launch where Sara Fitzsimmons from the American Chestnut Foundation spoke about their joint project with the Wildlands Conservancy's for re-establishing the American chestnut. They recently planted an American chestnut orchard at the Trexler Nature Preserve.
On Monday, the third day, the canoe/kayak ramble departed Walnutport bound for its Cementon takeout. The scenic trip passed relics from the canal period including a breached dam and the remnants of a Bear Trap Lock, a river lock that predated the Lehigh Navigation System. Stopping below the Treichler's Bridge at midday, there was a presentation on native plants.
On Monday evening, participants in the sojourn met at the pavilion of the Pool Wildlife Sanctuary in Emmaus for an evening program that included presentation of the Friends of the River award.