Once among one of Pennsylvania’s most heavily-polluted waterways, the Schuylkill River has undergone a dramatic recovery and was voted the 2014 Pennsylvania River of the Year. The general public voted online last year from November 25th to December 27th and chose the Schuylkill River over four other rivers which were finalists for the annual PA River of the Year award. They included the Kiskiminetas-Conemaugh Rivers, Ohio River, Brodhead Creek Watershed in Monroe County and the West Branch of the Susquehanna.
Final voting numbers overseen by the Pennsylvania Organization of Watershed and Rivers (POWR) showed the Schuylkill River received 43% of the votes casted. This is the second time the Schuylkill has been named River of the Year, having last received the distinction in 1999. The Delaware River won the award in 2011 and 2002. The Lehigh River won the award in 2007.
The winning applicant in the competition, the Schuylkill River Greenway Association received a $10,000 Leadership Grant to help fund River of the Year activities. The association manages the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area.
The organization will integrate the River of the Year message into its existing programs, including the Schuylkill River Sojourn. This year the 16th annual, 112-mile Schuylkill River Sojourn is now open to registration online. The guided canoe/kayak trip on the Schuylkill River gets under way Saturday, June 7, at Island Park in Schuylkill Haven, and ends Friday, June 13, at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia.
Participants paddle 14-18 miles per day and can register for the entire trip or as little as one day. On the river there will be a few rapids, a lot of calm water, campsites, and celebrations in the river towns.
The Schuylkill River Greenway Association will also offer newer pedal/paddle events and a bike tour series on the adjacent Schuylkill River Trail. A complete list of River of the Year events is available on the Schuylkill River Heritage Area website.
The Schuylkill stretches 128 miles from Schuylkill County headwaters to its confluence with the Delaware River in Philadelphia. On the brink of becoming a wasteland, the river was targeted by the state in the Schuylkill River Project, beginning in 1945. The first major government-funded environmental cleanup saw millions of tons of coal culm dredged from the river.
In roughly half a century, one of the nation’s most polluted bodies of water has improved to a point where it is now 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 along its corridor now look to the river to bolster community revitalization efforts.
The POWR administers the River of the Year program with funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) which has been presented annually since 1983. Each year, finalists are determined based on each waterway’s conservation needs and successes, as well as celebration plans should the nominee be voted River of the Year.