Celebrating the Majesty of the Susquehanna
With summer more than half over but water temperatures at their peak, now is s good time to get on the river in some manner and enjoy one of the greatest treasures that can be enjoyed by everybody in our readership. While it is only the 16th largest river in the nation, the Susquehanna is the largest river in the United States to no longer support commercial traffic. That, in large part, has given rise to recreational boating and camping along its winding branches and its designation in July 2009 as a national recreation trail and part of the National Park System.
Whether you fish, kayak, waterski, or just perch yourself along its shoreline or on a cliff overlooking the waterway, there is a stretch of the Susquehanna that will suit your needs. There are 24 public access areas along the river in Susquehanna, Bradford, and Wyoming Counties—11 between Ulster and Tunkhannock alone. Tackling the river one segment at a time is not only practical for beginner canoeists and kayakers, it’s a great way for weekend warriors like me to chalk off yet another piece of the water highway on a map as I set in with friends at a new location after shuttling some trucks to the downstream destination.
There are several reputable outfits in the area whose employees will shuttle you from point to point and most of them at reasonable prices when you consider what a nuisance shuttling yourself beween more than one landing away actually can be. My experience with these companies is that the employees are generally knowledgeable and friendly, as they love their jobs. (Who wouldn’t?) Even on peak weekends, they seek to customize your experience by meeting all of the needs of your group. If you’ve been on a particularly long run, you will be so grateful for the opportunity to take a catnap on the way back upstream to your car.
Recreational boating is not only simultaneously relaxing and invigorating, it affords bonding experiences for friends, family members, coworkers, and associates from civic and church groups that can’t be matched. The conversations that can be held with ease over the ripple of water between several kayakers is priceless. The rally of support around the one capsizer in the group can turn a potentially frightening moment into a round of laughter as the vessel paddled by the wettest member of the party is drained and set back on the river.
Running a stretch of the Susquehanna River provides a lesson in geography, topography, history, nature, and industry. Rivers have historically drawn industry. It is only since the eco-friendly movement began in the 1960s that we as a nation took the effects of factories on our watershed that industry was forced to treat the region’s lifeline with more respect. This remains an issue today with gas exploration and production posing unique threats to our waterway, while also drafting large volumes from it to support its activities. I was impressed when authorities enacted water restrictions without reservation as soon as the common summer dry spell dropped river levels below acceptable levels for industrial use. Just as importantly, however, is the drainage of agriculture-related wastes, such as cow manure from unprotected rural headwaters.
By the same token, please keep in mind that at 444 miles, the Susquehanna River is the longest river in the country to drain into the Atlantic Ocean, and its discharge represents more than half of the water in the Chesapeake Bay. After the Agnes Flood of 1972, in fact, so much fresh water was released in the bay at one time, that half of its marine life did not survive. We are just as responsible for what ends up in the Chesapeake as any other community along the Susquehanna. Please leave the river with everything that you took onto it.
Well-appointed lists of what you should take on a canoeing or kayak camping trip are available at www.fish.pa.us/watertrails/susqmid/trailguide.htm, but I offer my own list of the basics you will need for kayaking a single segment of the river. You will need a comfortable life jacket. There are people who do not wear them continuously, but the most responsible boaters will put them on when they are approaching rapids, of which there are several good sets between most landings.
Arrange to have dry clothing and a towel waiting for you at the end point. You can take a towel with you on the river, but once it gets wet, it’s dead weight. Wear an old pair of spare glasses if you need them. (Better to lose an old pair than your best ones.) Wear a full-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your head, ears, nose, and neck and slather yourself with sunblock everywhere. I’m one for traveling light on the river, but if you must carry cellphones, cameras, or cigarettes, it is wise to enclose them in a series of Ziploc baggies. Unfortunately even “watertight” pouches from sporting goods stores will leak, so extra measures to protect valuables are prudent. Take water or a sports drink and some light snacks like cereal bars and fruit that travel well. Avoid taking silverware and anything glass.
If you set in at one of the public access points, you will need a set of current boating permit stickers. These can be easily ordered and renewed online through the PA Fish and Game Commission and purchased for one or two years, with a slight discount for the latter. You can print a temporary sticker that is valid for 30 days until you get your real sticker, so encourage everyone in your party to be registered. State game wardens and park officials do frequent public boat access areas on weekend, and I have been with friends who have been denied access, which can really throw a wrench into your plans. Soliciting the services of an outfitter eliminates this responsibility on your part.
It has been encouraging also to see communities with river access treating the waterway as an asset and promoting the Susquehanna as part of what makes living along the river such a wonderful thing in ways that they had never done before. Tunkhannock recently hosted Celebrate the River Day, and Towanda’s Riverfest is planned for Thursday to Saturday, Aug. 18 to 20.
As hot as it is now, the season is already running short. So get out on the water and take it all in while the vegetation is at its greenest and wildlife is at its most active state. And keep me posted on kayaking events. Have Paddle; Will Travel.