IN MAY, 2011, the Washington, D.C.-based conservation group American Rivers named the Susquehanna the nation’s “most endangered river.” It was the second time in six years the 444-mile waterway topped the list.
The group cited rapidly growing and “poorly regulated” natural gas “fracking,” arguing that it threatened drinking water used by 6 million people. Industry representatives called the claim hyperbolic nonsense, contending no such contamination had occurred anywhere and ample precautions were taken to prevent it.
The reason for putting the Susquehanna on the top of the list in 2005 was easier to defend: Too much raw sewage was getting into the river, and then-U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski’s proposal to install an inflatable dam here in Wyoming Valley would exacerbate the problem.
No one familiar with the numerous locations where sewage is periodically allowed into the Susquehanna could argue that problem doesn’t exist, and even Kanjorski conceded the dam would back up the crud. His counter argument: Installing the dam would increase odds of getting funding for a permanent fix.
Couple these hypothetical threats with the very real damage caused when the river floods — as we were tragically reminded in September, 2011 — and it’s easy to understand why many fear the river without ever enjoying it.
They are wrong. The Susquehanna has always been and will long remain one of Wyoming Valley’s most valuable jewels. Respect the potential of it’s wrath, address the risks to its cleanliness, but don’t abandon its beauty.
As someone who has paddled the river many times, including week-long trips along both branches decades ago, I can confidently say there is no better way to appreciate the Susquehanna than to float along its currents.
It is a particularly tame waterway, inviting neophytes to dabble in kayak or canoe. And the invitation is open to all during RiverFest 2013, slated for June 21-23. Three supervised excursions of varying length and difficulty have been set up, and anyone can enroll online through a link at riverfrontparks.org.
I took a short paddle last week, a promotional run set up to get some well-earned media attention. Unlike past trips, this one included remnants from the 2011 flood. Debris is still piled high near bridge piers and on island shores.
One enormous stack of brown and gray sported a bright red ball. Elsewhere, a long piece of cloth draped across the shoreline, a tattered banner offering testimony to 2011.
Yes the water is brown and less than pristine, and yes there are signs of decay and destruction. But these are man-made. The Susquehanna defiantly remains attractive, it’s shores green, it’s vistas inspiring and relaxing, it’s wildlife engaging.
RiverFest will offer many reasons to come to the Susquehanna’s shores in Wilkes-Barre. But if you really want to appreciate the waterway, consider joining one of the sojourns.
Don’t just get near it, get on it. It will not disappoint.
Reach Mark Guydish at firstname.lastname@example.org