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Delaware River Sojourn Celebrates 25 Years
This year's paddle incorporates the Sojourn's Tshirt design by Dejay Branch and was created by Sandy Schultz. Photo by Michelle Mormul. 
This year's paddle incorporates the Sojourn's Tshirt design
Dejay Branch and was created by Sandy Schultz.
Photo by Michelle Mormul. 

The Delaware River Sojourn, a multi-day, guided paddle, recently celebrated its 25th trip down the wild and scenic Delaware River, on June 15-22. In the beginning, the Sojourn was started as a way to get more people on the river to learn about its importance to the region and encourage stewardship. Today, the mission remains the same, and the annual event has grown into a family-friendly summer camp adventure peppered with experiential learning experiences and good old-fashioned fun in the sun.

Unfortunately, mother nature didn’t listen to that last descriptor, as the 2019 Sojourn will go down in the history books as the "Soggy Sojourn." While each day’s paddle was able to go forward, the trip was plagued with high flows, wet paddles, and even wetter camping experiences. But, none of this prevented sojourners from having a great time, enjoying one another and what brought us all together: the wild and scenic Delaware River.

The Delaware River Sojourn is planned so individuals can join for one-day, several, or the entire trip. The river is too long to paddle in its entirety, but the trip is planned so each section of the river is explored: Upper Delaware, Delaware Water Gap, Lower Delaware, and the tidewaters. Camping is included, as well as educational programming, loosely centered around the Sojourn’s theme, hitting important topics such as history, water quality, and the river's significance to the communities that depend on it.

In addition to learning about the river, the Sojourn also celebrates individuals who have made outstanding contributions to protect the health of the Delaware River and its environs. The Sojourn honors them as Lord or Lady High Admirals, the title borrowed from timber rafter Daniel Skinner, who in the late 1700s became known as the Lord High Admiral of the Delaware for being one of the first to successfully ride a raft of timbers downriver from the Upper Delaware to Philadelphia in the spring. This year, the Sojourn honored Marc Magnus-Sharpe, Commodore of the National Canoe Safety Patrol; Steve Schwartz, Delaware Highlands Conservancy; Deb Shuler, Friends of Cherry Valley; Janet Sweeney and Angela Vitkoski, Pennsylvania Environmental Council; Catherine McCabe and Debbie Mans, N.J. Department of Environmental Protection; and Steve Tambini, DRBC.

For the past several years, the Sojourn kicked-off with a "Day 0" volunteer river cleanup in the vicinity of our first day of paddle, organized by the National Park Service Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (UPDE). This year we had to cancel because of high flows, which would have been unsafe for volunteers. The Sojourn kicked off on Saturday, June 15 with three days of paddling organized by the UPDE, Delaware Highlands Conservancy, and the National Canoe Safety Patrol. In these three days, sojourners paddled 34 miles, from Narrowsburg, N.Y. to West End Beach, Port Jervis, N.Y., through the wilds of the upper Delaware River region.

The trip then moved to the Middle Delaware, which encompasses the 40-mile Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DEWA). This section was planned by representatives from the Brodhead Watershed Association, Friends of DEWA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Sierra Club PA Chapter. In two days, folks paddled from Dingmans Ferry, Pa. to Worthington State Forest, totaling 23 miles, and enjoying the unspoiled scenery of the national recreation area, seen through a mixture of raindrops and rainbows.

As the river winds south to its non-tidal lower stretch, its banks get more suburban, but that doesn’t mean the views are any less scenic. The Lower Delaware is a scenic and recreational river, just like its upper and middle stretches, which is a unit of the National Park Service. This section of the trip was planned by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: Delaware Canal State Park, the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry (part of the N.J. Dept. of Environmental Protection), and the Delaware River Greenway Partnership. Folks paddled from Tinicum, Pa. to Lambertville, N.J., totaling 15 miles on one day and then another 10 miles from just south of Lambertville to Yardley, Pa. on the next. Camping at Washington Crossing State Park in N.J., sojourners got to experience an evening astronomy program by the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton after the first day’s paddle. The lunch program on the second day was a visit to Washington Crossing Historic Park, on the Pa. side, where participants got a tour and were able to see the replica Durham boats that reenactors take across the Delaware every Christmas day.

The Sojourn culminated on June 22 with a 5-mile paddle in the river’s upper tidewaters, from Bordentown, N.J. to Florence, N.J., organized by volunteers Lois Burmeister and Sandy Schultz and the Burlington Quaker Meeting House & Center for Conference. This section of the river is more industrialized; a large shipping vessel passed the group being pushed upriver by a powerful tugboat. But, sojourners also paddled by freshwater marshes, parklands, and osprey nests on buoys marking the shipping channel, showing that while the tidal river is a working river, it is also a living river. This day included a stop at Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s Pa. home, and concluded in Florence with its traditional visit by the Smylie’s Ice Cream truck!  

Most of the participants join for one or several days, but there are always several dozen, give or take, who paddle the entire trip each year. This year, Mike Slattery, Delaware River Watershed Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was one of those hearty through-trippers who did all 8 days. At the end of the trip, he left with a better understanding of how important the Delaware River is not just for aquatic life, but for its local communities.

There were also three special Sojourn people on the trip this year. Sandy Schultz was one of the original organizers of the Sojourn 25 years ago; despite retiring in 2010 from the National Park Service and moving to Virginia, Sandy remains committed to the Sojourn and still helps plan the event as a member of the steering committee. She also designs the Sojourn’s coveted wood-burned paddle, which is raffled off at the end of the trip to a lucky participant. Dave Simon, National Canoe Safety Patrol and Sojourn Trip Leader, was also part of the original Sojourn and has paddled every one – every day of every one – since. His wife, Jane Simon, while not on the original trip, has been paddling each sojourn since the early years; both she and Dave were honored with the Sojourn’s inaugural 1,000 Mile Paddler’s Award, which was created to celebrate those who have paddled 1,000 miles or more on the Delaware River Sojourn.

Another important contingent of Sojourn participants are those that join the trip as part of its Youth Paddle Program. This program, through grant funding, supports a limited number of youth teams to join the trip for free; a team is comprised of 5 youth and 1 chaperone, who must be a teacher or scout leader. This year, the Sojourn was able to support 62 youth and 14 leaders, for a total of 76 people. The Sojourn is pleased to be able to offer this program, as it encourages more kids to get out and enjoy nature, as well as connects them with other like-minded individuals, be it other youth or the adults on the trip.

The Delaware River Sojourn would like to give special thanks to the National Canoe Safety Patrol (NCSP), who is celebrating their 40th Anniversary this year, for keeping sojourners safe on water and on land. This dedicated group of volunteers is trained in CPR, first-aid, and swiftwater rescue, and ensures that participants follow protocols while encouraging safe, fun recreation. The Sojourn would also like to thank Northeast Wilderness Experience, our boat livery and shuttle, who provide this service throughout the entire trip, as well as Konrad’s Kitchen, who caters the entire Sojourn. Keeping 50-100+ paddlers safe, properly-equipped, and satiated is no easy feat, and we are ever appreciative of their efforts and services!

The Sojourn would not be possible without the support of (a) our sponsors: ShopRite, New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, (b) our grantors: Pennsylvania Organization of Watersheds and Rivers, National Park Service Lower Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, and PPL, and (c) our individual donors. These funds help keep our registration costs as low as possible for participants, as well as fund our Youth Paddle Program.

This year, DRBC was able to provide Sojourn Scholarships to several members of the public through a grant it received from the William Penn Foundation. This is part of a larger effort, Our Shared Waters: A Look at the Delaware River Basin, which supports outreach and learning experiences throughout the entire Delaware River Basin. We welcomed Emily Pugliese and Jordan Brunette of Pa. State Senator Art Haywood’s staff (4th District), Erica Rosetti of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Chancey Colon, a constituent of N.J. State Senator Shirley Turner (15th District), and Mike James and Brian Lestini, constituents of N.J. Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (7th District). Each paddled for one day and left with a greater appreciation for the river and the role it plays in our daily lives.

The Delaware River Sojourn is planned by a steering committee made up of individual volunteers, local businesses, and representatives from federal, state, and local non-profit agencies/organizations; the commitee is chaired by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Steering committee members serve as fiduciary, registrar, day planners, safety team, secretary and communications liaison, and youth program coordinators. This diverse group meets monthly and communicates regularly throughout the year to make each trip better than the rest. In fact, planning has already begun for the 2020 Sojourn, and we hope to see you on the river next June!

DRBC has been a member of the steering committee since the Sojourn’s early years and is proud to support this non-for-profit event that celebrates the river, promotes stewardship, and encourages people to explore and learn. While the trip would not be possible without the planning committee, its supporters, and its participants, the Delaware River Sojourn has always been and will always be about the river.

Video and Photos!