Schuylkill Sojourn Day 4: Smooth Sailing (and a Storm)

Boom shacka lacka!
Sojourn Steward pièce de résistance

At 13.7 miles, Day Four of the Schuylkill Sojourn provides a midstream breather—a day to work on your form, to take in the scenery, and if you’re game, to horse around and try to upend your friends in the calm waters. It also reveals the motherlode of trash, the greatest centralization of it on probably the entire Schuylkill River.

Where the Schuylkill River Trail crosses its namesake between Union Township and Douglassville in Berks County, it uses a converted old railroad bridge—one built to replace an earlier bridge that was demolished but whose footings still lurk under the existing one. While my role on this Sojourn has a focus on trash and I aim to identify problem trash spots, the biggest ones I’ve found aren’t exactly news to Sojourners nor to the respective municipalities. The Pottstown Mercury profiled the SRT bridge’s trash buildup on Earth Day, including an interview with Silas Chamberlin, executive director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, the organization that coordinates the Sojourn. (Silas leads each morning’s meeting that includes a roundup of that day’s events, a shoutout of gratitude to the Sojourn’s sponsors, and a handoff to Allan for the safety talk.) In the interview, he talks about the expensive complexities of first cleaning the trash, and ultimately, removing the old bridge footings that are the cause.

In other words, unfortunately the dam of trash will likely remain a feature of this scenic section of the SRT for the foreseeable future. And a dam it is: natural debris from heavy rain and floods like fallen logs have backed up on the bridge, allowing trash to back up on it—basketballs, inner tubes, a full styrofoam cooler, a skylight, a fridge. Tons of bottles and cans; so so much plastic. It’s kind of mesmerizing.

Before we even got there, though, we put in at the mouth of the Allegheny Creek after camping at Allegheny Aqueduct Historical Park and the 18th Century Beidler homestead and mill. And the silt islands the Allegheny has fed into the Schuylkill have really crafted their own little trash islands. Megan and Dave share a tandem kayak and at launch, we waited next to one another while everyone got in the river. In that three minutes or so, Megan found a wallet in the water—a wallet that had a woman’s ID, and the Social Security cards of five different people. That woman was either a spy who was killed or a fraud artist who got out of the game.

Who would you like to be today?
Who would you like to be today?

Elsewhere in Sojourn trash land (trash water?), I noticed eight more tires, all but one of them submerged, which means I must only see what, a quarter? tenth? of what’s really there. What do you do with spent tires, man? Doug Chapman, of Take It Outdoors Adventures (whose kayak, paddle, and PFD I’m using this week), rightly said that if there was any money in recycling tires, Goodyear would already have that market locked. Why haven’t we developed a new material for tires that could serve another purpose after their initial life other than at the bottom of a river? C’mon technology, get on the level.

Beyond that, the normal bottles on the banks and film plastic wrapped on roots, a couple plastic bags in trees. Oh, and a party spot on the Birdsboro side of the PA-345 bridge.

We passed under that bridge and another rail bridge on the back channel of the river, the bayou-like “Tunnel of Love.” The lunch spot, just below the SRT trash dam, took place at Historic Morlatton Village, which I’d never heard of but which to my surprise has the oldest building in Berks County, a house built by Swedish settler Mouns Jones in 1716. The Heritage Area folks served us Rita’s water ice. I had chocolate, which Patty from Rochester NY said was gross, like slushy Yoo-Hoo. C’mon Patty, get on the level.

The rest of the route into Pottstown was pure cruise control. (Well, that and a 15-minute downpour.) The catalpas on the banks are starting to bloom, the scent of honeysuckle filled the air, and the onion-dome steeple of the Byzantine Catholic Church of Pottstown pierced the horizon by 2:30pm. Early in, early out today.

Pottstown ahead, storm incoming.
Pottstown ahead, storm incoming.

It may seem odd to camp out on Pottstown’s riverfront, but the Heritage Area’s offices are adjacent the park in a converted electric company building, and they let Sojourners take the best five-minute showers they ever did take. They also organized an all-out feast, with a salsa band and screenings of short films as part of the Pottstown Film Festival happening this week to boot. Good times.

Choice photos of Day Four, here they go:

Schuylkill River Heritage Area ED Silas Chamberlin gets the day going at Allegheny Aqueduct park.
Schuylkill River Heritage Area ED Silas Chamberlin gets the day going at Allegheny Aqueduct park.
Go home, Middleswarth, you're drunk and in the wrong watershed.
Go home, Middleswarth, you’re drunk and in the wrong watershed.
Pretty much the day's river conditions.
Pretty much the day’s river conditions.
300-year-old home, 20-second brain freeze.
300-year-old home, 20-second brain freeze, close enough on the season.
Sojourn postcard from the SRT bridge.
Sojourn postcard from the SRT bridge.
Sojourn postcard noir from SRT bridge.
Sojourn postcard noir from SRT bridge.
Hello nothern water snake (I think)!
Hello nothern water snake (I think)!
30% chance of rain, huh. Mm hmm.
30% chance of rain, huh. Mm hmm.
Kayaks in, tents up, storm's out, good night.
Kayaks in, tents up, storm’s out, good night.

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