POTTSTOWN — Roughly 100 paddlers on this year’s Schuylkill River Sojourn pulled into Riverfront Park Tuesday, midway along the 120-mile journey from the river’s source in Schuylkill County to boathouse row in Philadelphia.
Elaine Schaeffer, executive director of the Pottstown-based Schuylkill River Greenways organization, which has sponsored the Sojourn for 25 years, said while 100 people participated in this leg of the journey, about 50 are expected to make the full journey, which takes seven days.
As the tired paddlers pulled up at the park’s gravel boat launch with a crunch, she gave them the news so many likely wanted to hear — that showers would be available for those who want them.
“Sign up for your time and be on time or you go to the back of the line,” she shouted several times over the hubbub of people pulling their boats from the water.
Among them were young people who had come along free of charge, thanks to the Sojourn’s “mentor” program, now in its fifth year.
Schaeffer said the program is designed to “expose urban youth to the river, to discover the river in their own back yard, and to allow some of our Sojourn veterans to show them the ropes and to keep an eye on them on the river.”
“We outfit them with everything. If you have never been out on the river, it can be intimidating,” she said. It began with a youth group in Reading and has spread to other areas.
This year, children from Star City Boxing in Reading, Tri-County YWCA in Pottstown, and Discovery Pathways in Philadelphia are getting free rides on the river.
Pottstown resident Nancy Wiesinger, who has paddled the full seven days in the past, arrived back home and said, “This was really fun. It made me sad we’re not doing all seven days, but I just couldn’t this year.”
Wiesinger had high praise for the Greenways staff and the army of volunteers who make the Sojourn go.
“I had orthopedic surgery in February and when I called up to register, I told them I was not sure I would be able to carry my kayak around the first dam and they said ‘no problem, we will do it for you,’ and they did.”
Then on the first day, “when we got up to Schuylkill Haven, they had volunteers out in the water with chainsaws clearing the way. They had a big storm the night before and they were clearing away the fallen trees and branches for all of us,” she said.
Additionally, a bridge over the river had collapsed downstream of the launch point “so they rented school buses to take us downstream of the bridge, but they didn’t show up. They didn’t miss a beat and they just piled us all into the vans and got us into the water on time,” she said. “None of all this would happen without all of the effort those people put into it.”
And with that, she headed up over the Ronald Downie Amphitheater to get ready for a meal delivered by Pottstown’s own Bause Catered events. According to Schaeffer, a Sojourner favorite in Pottstown is shepherd’s pie.