Rolling on the Lehigh
By John Heilig
"Lean into the rock," our leader, Art Paolini of Catasauqua, yelled. He and I both leaned the other way, however, and were dumped into the rapids, leaving our raft partners, Jack McDowell of Bethlehem and Merrill Dickinson of Salisbury, to fend for themselves.
I'm not a great swimmer, but Dave Simon of Bethlehem, one of the rescue workers on the river, was by my side almost immediately, telling me to grab onto the gunwales of his kayak, and then onto the rope hook on the stern. I obeyed (and prayed), and Dave carried me through the rapids. Art found another savior, and we met the other half of our quartet a few hundred feet further down the river for "war stories" and laughs.
During the 14-mile whitewater raft trip, we four hit the river a total of six times, earning the sobriquet "Lehigh Swim Team" from the safety workers. The river (and the Army Corps of Engineers) conspired against us, though; there had been a water release from the Francis Walter Dam earlier Sunday morning, resulting in much higher water levels and faster flows.
We were among 106 people participating in the 2001 Lehigh River Sojourn, a canoeing and rafting experience down the Lehigh River from Stoddartsville in Luzerne County to the confluence with the Delaware River in Easton. The Sojourn is a fun and educational experience sponsored by the Wildlands Conservancy to introduce people to the Lehigh River from a perspective they don't normally see, and to educate them as to the needs for wildlands preservation.
This year's Sojourn, the fifth, included whitewater canoeing from Stoddartsville to the Francis E. Walter Dam; whitewater rafting from Rockport through the Lehigh Gorge to Glen Onoko, north of Jim Thorpe, and four days of canoeing, from Jim Thorpe to Walnutport, Walnutport to Catasauqua, Catty to Sand Island in Bethlehem, and Bethlehem to Easton.
Not everyone participated in every day's activities, but a core of around 30 paddled and rode every mile of the river and camped every night.
It was an experience I'll never forget, nor will most of the group of new river rats who were participating for the first time.
"The Lehigh River is one of the Lehigh Valley's best-kept secrets," said Tom Kerr, president of the Wildlands Conservancy. "Canoeing down the river, you hardly know you are in the middle of a region with 500,000 people. The goal of the Sojourn is to advance knowledge, foster understanding, cultivate appreciation and encourage responsible stewardship and use of the Lehigh River and its watershed."
At various stops along the way, we were "educated." Our first class was before we even hit the water. John Butler, a descendant of the original founders of Stoddartsville, told us about the history of the settlement and industry that existed in the area in the 19th century. Stoddartsville is also the site of the Lehigh River Falls, the only falls on the Lehigh. We put in just below the falls.
My partner the first day was Charlie Makey of West Seneca, N.Y., who was running the river with two Buffalo-area companions, Don Benz and Roy Priestly. Charlie was on the Sojourn because a previous trip down the Delaware had proven to be uninteresting, and the trio wanted something different to try. They stayed for four days, then headed home via the Finger Lakes.
I was impressed by the feeling of camaraderie among my fellow sojourners. Many had been on previous Sojourns, and many had experience on the Lehigh and other rivers. We had a cadre of veteran canoeists, kayakers and rafters along with the more inexperienced, giving a feeling of confidence to those of us who were a little tentative.
There were the usual jokes among old friends. Everyone asked "Snakebite" (Bethlehem firefighter Rick Sherry) if he was planning on tipping this year. Snakebite is an experienced river rat with a great sense of humor who did get wet on the first day. Somehow, it all seemed deliberate.
Many of our group were parents with children, and there were a couple of families along. One, who will remain nameless, was the first to go for a swim during the first day's canoe trip. We waited while the rescue workers pulled them out of the water and bailed out their canoe.
Larry Riebman of Whitehall and his daughter were on the river the entire six days. We breakfasted together on Saturday and he told me they enjoyed this time together.
On the last day, a mother and young daughter paddled lazily down the Lehigh through Allentown and into Bethlehem, with Mom Jennifer doing most of the paddling and daughter Natalie spraying other boats-and getting sprayed in retaliation.
During our first lunch break on Saturday, just downstream of the confluence of the Tobyhanna and Lehigh rivers, we met Pete Sussenbach, Wildlife Preservation officer with the Pennsylvania Fish & Game Commission, who told us about the need for preserving property.
Chuck Fetterman of the Conservancy told us that the Wildlands Trust Fund is a land acquisition agency. Its goal is to preserve wildlands for future generations. The land we were on at the time belonged to a hunting club, but the land on both sides of the Lehigh that we had been going through belonged to the Conservancy.
One of the problems on the first day was heavy rain. One of the joys of the first day was seeing a bald eagle fly above us with a small sparrow flying alongside, picking off mites.
Karen Dolan, president of the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society, gave a talk on the history of birds along the Lehigh River during our second day's lunch break. Karen, who is a science teacher in Bethlehem, explained that the history of birds on the river goes back 100 to 200 million years. In 1829, John James Audubon visited the river in the Jim Thorpe area and looked for birds. At that time, there were osprey all along the river and great blue heron.
But with the growth of the logging industry along the Lehigh, the osprey and great blue heron moved out. Osprey were reintroduced through the efforts of East Stroudsburg University, who took 33 baby osprey in 1978, transported them to the Lehigh River and set them free. Since osprey return to where they were raised, that population grew in five years to 110 birds. A similar reintroduction of osprey worked at Lake Champlain.
Women's hats, and the plumage desired, almost caused the extinction of the great blue heron, two of which were seen on Wednesday's run through Allentown. However, a group of women started the Audubon Society and changed fashion and legislation, saving the great blue heron.
On Sunday, she was accompanied by two Bethlehem students, Nate Brown and Eddie Santos. Santos summed up the experience with a rap message: "One man with brown skin and a big afro\But they all had love\That they did show\Teaching me things that the hood don't even know."
Brown's rap went: "Now it's all over and I still want more\Clothes all wet and my arms are real sore\Pack up the tent and head home for sure\Get home and people start asking\Where'd you go, what you do, and what else happened?\Jus' tell 'em We had the time of our lives\White Water Rafting."
Until 1967, the Lehigh River was owned by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company. Coal mining operations are the cause of much of the brown tint the water now displays, according to Chris Kocher, director of rivers programs for the Conservancy. He said that abandoned mine drainage, particularly from the Luzerne Tunnel about two miles north of Jim Thorpe, put iron, aluminum, magnesium and zinc into the water. More than 4,600 gallons per minute of water flows through this tunnel.
Kocher's talk, by the side of the river in Salisbury, informed participants that the Lehigh River is 103 miles long. Its watershed covers 1,360 square miles. He told attendees, such as Lehigh County Executive Jane Ervin and Dave Hess, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, that the conservancy is involved in repairing the Lehigh River corridor of vegetation.
Hess commented: "This was my first canoe trip. If I can do it, anyone can. Sojourns are a great way to connect people with a river. The more people experience a river first-hand, the more they come to care about what happens to it and want to keep it clean."
The Lehigh River Sojourn is one of 14 similar journeys on Pennsylvania rivers scheduled for 2001.
As the canoeists leisurely paddled down the river from Catasauqua to Sand Island, it was hard to believe we were in the middle of Allentown and Bethlehem. It is these efforts that earned the Conservancy the Governor's Award for Watershed Stewardship for 2001.
Besides the education, though, the trip was also designed for fun and enjoyment. Makey commented on the quality of the food, including fresh trout sandwiches at one stop, chicken shish-ka-bob at another and baked ziti at a third.
At Sand Island, we were treated to lasagna and a special cake during dinner at the Ice House.
Tuesday's lunch break at Treichler's Bridge included a presentation on invertebrates and a shad release by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.
On Wednesday, with the waters of the river calmer, the mood of the Sojourners was also more relaxed. John Cressman of Danielsville strapped a stick pony to the stern of his canoe and wore a huge foam cowboy hat for entertainment. He used his water cannon to cool off other canoeists.
Evening entertainment included ghost stories on Saturday night and an excellent talk on the river itself by Simon, my rescuer.
Wednesday afternoon's lunch break offered massages by Take a Break, which drew long lines, and a talk from the Allentown Hiking Club.
Thursday's journey included a three-mile paddle through Hugh Moore Park and through an operational lift lock.
In addition, six artists accompanied the sojourners. They created works during the days and drew inspiration from several sites for future visits.
As in the past, an exhibit of these paintings will be held in October. Artist Donna Haney, for example, created an oil of Weissport Canal Park that was on exhibit Tuesday night, along with four other oils and one charcoal sketch.
Despite getting dumped, fearing for my life for a few seconds that seemed like hours, enduring great pain in my shoulders and arms from paddling, and being "forced" to dine on near-gourmet meals in a rustic atmosphere, I'll be back for the next Lehigh River Sojourn. It was an experience I'll never forget, a sentiment that was echoed by nearly everyone I spoke with.
BARRYVILLE - Lumberland Fire Department volunteers and a
National Park Service (NPS) ranger are pictured below the Shohola Rapids on the
Delaware River August 20 assisting an injured boater. An NPS spokesperson said
the unidentified 14 year old complained of back pain after she fell out of a
canoe in the rapids during a summer camp boating trip. After her retrieval from
the Pennsylvania shore, the Eldred American Legion Ambulance transported the
camper to Bon Secours Community Hospital in Port Jervis.
Heroic rescue slip away
Lower Makefield police officer Tom Augustin talks to the boys after
they were rescued from Rotary Island in the Delaware River, where they
had camped overnight.
Pennsbury teacher John McDonnell, who jumped into the swirling waters
of the river to pull two victims to safety. One man, Albert Hough, of
Levittown, would later die at Helene Fuld Medical Center in Trenton.
Brenda Conklin, of Yardley, gave the Levittown man CPR for several
minutes, finally getting a pulse.
Yardley Makefield and Capital View fire members
rescued the boys from the island.
01-500 - New River Gorge NR (WV) -
Drowning Howard Dickerson, 29, of Beckley,
West Virginia, was boating the New River with
two friends, Sheldon
Linkous and James Givens, on the evening of August 30th. At Hook 99
rapids in a remote section of the gorge, Dickerson's Thrill-Seeker
inflatable kayak came in contact with an undercut rock. The force of the
water pulled Dickerson and his boat under the rock. Linkous and Givens,
who were paddling in another raft, saw Dickerson's boat being pulled
under. They paddled to the rock, climbed on top and tried to free the
boat; Dickerson had gone under the rock and could not be seen.
trying to free the boat from the rock for about an hour, Linkous and
Givens decided to paddle to Fayette Station take-out,
car was parked. They then drove to Fayetteville, where they called
911 at approximately 9:30 p.m. The 911 center
notified rangers, who
immediately responded. River patrol ranger Brian Hunter hiked into the
gorge and located the trapped boat. Due to the lack of daylight, recovery
efforts were postponed until the following morning. At daylight, river
patrol and protection rangers rafted downriver to the location, set
up a Z-drag with ropes and pulleys, and removed the boat from
the rock. When the boat was removed, Dickerson's body floated
free from under the rock. Rangers retrieved the body and transported it
down river to Fayette Station take-out, where it was turned over to
the Fayette County coroner's office. [Gary Hartley, CR,