Our favorite recreational river last year lost the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources annual (20 years running we might add) River of the Year competition to the Steel City's (ugh!) Monongahela. Out of more than 24,000 ballots that were cast last year the Schuylkill fell short by just 146 votes.
This time around, the Schuykill leads the balloting for 2014 River of the Year honors with a hefty 40 percent of popular votes cast. The voting period runs from November 25th to December 27th, so we have a fews days left to make sure the the Kiskiminetas-Conemaugh Rivers, in second place with 21%, don't close the gap.
Remember that this recognition is done to raise awareness of the important recreational, ecological, and historical resources associated with the state's rivers and streams. And the Schuylkill has a great story to tell. Some background: The Schuylkill measures 128 miles from its headwaters in Schuylkill County to its confluence with the Delaware River in Philadelphia.
It is a river with a tremendous history and an inspiring environmental story. The Schuylkill was on the brink of becoming a wasteland until, in 1945, the state of Pennsylvania agreed to undertake the Schuylkill River Project. It was the first major government-funded environmental cleanup, and it dredged millions of tons of coal culm from the river. 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 paddlers, trail users and anglers.
The Schuylkill 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. Leading that effort is the Schuylkill River Development Corporation (check out the slideshow below). With a proven track record in raising funds, promoting city assets, collaborating with a broad and diverse constituency, SRDC works with federal, state, city and private agencies to coordinate, plan and implement economic, recreational, environmental and cultural improvements and tourism initiatives on the lower Schuylkill River between the Fairmount Dam and the Delaware River.
The Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, or POWR, administers the River of the Year program. Local organizations submit nominations. POWR also helps organize and support local watershed associations, as well as the groups who lead a dozen sojourns on rivers around the state each year.
The Schuylkill River Heritage Area (SRHA) has received a three-year, $394,238 grant from the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation to continue the development of the Schuylkill River Trail in Schuylkill County, and to develop and implement river and trail-related programs.
The money will fund watershed stewardship programs, environmental education and trail expansion.
It will also fund a one-mile loop River Walk Trail in Pottstown's Riverfront Park, with direct connection to the Schuylkill River Trail. The loop trail, which will be located directly behind the Schuylkill River Heritage Area's 140 College Drive offices, will incorporate five interpretive stations focused on the river and watershed protection.
In addition to trail building, the grant will enable the Heritage Area to provide a mentor-based watershed education program for the I-LEAD Charter School in Reading that incorporates classroom lessons and field trip elements. That program will be a continuation of an existing class introduced this year by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area.
"This grant will enable us to continue to develop the Schuylkill River Trail," said SRHA Executive Director Kurt Zwikl. "It will also allow us to provide educational and recreational programs that connect people to the river and inspire them to protect and conserve our natural resources."
Several river and trail-based recreation programs will also be supported by the grant, including the Schuylkill River Sojourn, an annual weeklong, 112-mile guided canoe/kayak tour that is organized by the Heritage Area. The sojourn, which is entering its 16th year in June, incorporates educational programming about the river's history, culture and environment that are intended to promote the river as a valuable natural and recreational resource.
Another popular Heritage Area program that will benefit from the grant will be the Pedal and Paddle events held every summer. Pedal and Paddles take participants on a round-trip adventure from Pottstown to Douglassville. They include a bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail, tour of Historic Morlatton Village and return trip via kayak. The program introduces people to the river and the trail, and promotes preservation and conservation.