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Reading teens among the first-timer kayakers on the 2021 Schuylkill River Sojourn

A kayak trip on the Schuylkill River this summer for seven Reading teens, some for the first time, started with a conversation two years ago.

That’s when Daphne Klahr, executive director of the Reading Recreation Commission, attended the Schuylkill River Greenways Association (SRGA) Sojourn dinner and had a conversation with Schuylkill River Greenways Association Executive Director Elaine Paul Schaefer about the possibility of including youth from Reading’s rec centers in future Sojourns.

For 23 years, the Schuylkill River Sojourn has been an annual multi-day trek from Schuylkill County to Philadelphia beloved by paddlers. Paddlers can go the length or opt for shorter excursions with the group. This year, due to the pandemic, it started later, and in Berks on July 31, almost two months later than usual.

That made the experience a little different this year, but still full of fellowship and many new participants, organizers said.

Klahr said this year the idea to bring in Reading students was revisited by the SRGA through discussions with its education director, Sarah Crothers.

“The SRGA has a mentor program that pairs experienced kayakers with first-time or inexperienced kayakers referred to as ‘mentees,’” Klahr said. “The mentor program is an initiative of the SRG, and our trip was part of that initiative. Simply put, the SRG is working to get younger people in kayaks to enjoy the amazing waterways that our area has to offer.”

Klahr said the mentors and mentees were all in their own kayaks, but mentors stayed with the mentees on the water and gave them instruction and tips.

“In the case of this year’s event, they also provided our girls with jackets and hats from their stash, which the girls were so thankful for,” Klahr said. “It’s really the perfect partnership as both of our organizations are working to introduce kids to awesome experiences that will enrich their lives.”

Klahr said she was surprised that even with rain on the river, the teens were excited.

“When the kids arrived in Pottstown they were soaked to the skin, as it had rained all day, but despite the less-than-favorable weather conditions, they were all smiling, laughing, happy!” Klahr said.

She said she hopes that RRC will be able to involve more kids in the Sojourn program next year, and maybe outside of the Sojourn with the help of SRG volunteers.

The girls, ages 12-16, were asked about their trip, which started at the Third and Spruce Recreation Center at 7 a.m.

Here’s what five of them said about their 16.3-mile trip on the Schuylkill from the Allegheny Aqueduct in Gibraltar to Pottstown’s Riverfront Park.

Jeiliz P. Vega, 14, a first-time kayaker, said she was surprised by how hard it was. The hardest part was the rain falling in her eyes.

“My advice to someone who has never kayaked is to have faith, we’re going to make it because though it feels long it’s worth it!” Vega said.

Would she do it again?

“Yes, she said.

•••

Niyah Morales, 12, said she had been kayaking twice at Blue Marsh Lake.

“I thought it would be fun try new things,” Morales said. “It’s not my first time, but I was surprised by how much movement and how tiring it was.”

The hardest thing was paddling towards the end, and she said new kayakers should not rush their paddling like its a race but take time to enjoy the view. She was surprised by how shallow the river was versus how deep it looks.

Would she do it again?

“Definitely, especially with how nice the people were,” Morales said.

•••

Danielle Russell, 15, had been kayaking once before in summer camp.

“I thought that it would be a fun event,” Russell said. “I was surprised by how nice everyone there was. Everyone was helping each other, giving advice, and it was great because they did it just to be nice.”

Her arms got tired, she said, but she kept going. She thinks new paddlers benefit from a mentor.

“My mentor told me a lot about his life and where he’s traveled, and he showed me the different types of birds, and I learned that the water’s current will do most of the work for you.” Russell said.

She would definitely kayak again.

•••

Ayanna Rodriguez, 16, had been kayaking before at Blue Marsh, but it was her first time in a river. She said the hardest part of the trip was the rain and the low water level. Her advice to new kayakers?

“Wear old clothes, bring water shoes, and be prepared to learn new things and experiences,” she said. “I learned that if I were to fall off my kayak, to lie on my back and float with the river.”

And, yes, she’d definitely do it again.

•••

Amanda Russell, 16, said she had been kayaking before during the summer.

“I go to this place called High Point Camp where they teach us how to kayak,” she said. “It was my first time kayaking with a big group, which was a lot of fun, and also having them tell me their techniques on paddling. I think the hardest thing about the trip was making sure avoid logs and rocks so you wouldn’t get stuck.”

Russell said new kayakers should “make sure that you have the balance and also to have fun and be relax.”

She said the trip changed her image of the Schuylkill River as being dirty.

“But it was actually very clear water when we went kayaking,” she said. “Yes, I would definitely do it again!”


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Did you know?

The Schuylkill River Water Trail was designated a National Recreational Trail. It runs the 147-mile length of the Schuylkill River to the confluence of the Schuylkill with the main stem of the Delaware River in the city of Philadelphia. Along the water trail, there are several places where public landings for the water trail overlap with trailheads for the Schuylkill River Trail, the 135-mile regional land trail.

The best time to run the Schuylkill is early summer. The river can be shallow and rocky at spots, so be sure to check the water levels in the area you wish to paddle before putting in. Also, note that there are several dams on the Schuylkill, and paddlers are required by law to portage around these dams. Portages can be lengthy in unimproved locations. The normal summer flow of the Schuylkill River accommodates small, shallowdraft powered and non-powered watercraft. To learn more about the trail you best bet is https://schuylkillriver.org/schuylkill-river-watertrail/. Alerts for closures will appear there.


Source: Berkshire mont

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