Water Works

Record-Setting ‘Sojourn’ Highlights the Schuylkill River’s Wild Beauty

Philadelphia Water's Paul Fugazzotto paddles to the finish of the 2016 Schuylkill Sojourn. A record 205 people joined the annual event this year. Photo credit: Brian Rademaekers
Philadelphia Water's Paul Fugazzotto paddles to the finish of the 2016 Schuylkill Sojourn. A record 205 people joined the annual event this year. Photo credit: Brian Rademaekers

If you happened to be in Philadelphia admiring the Schuylkill River’s picturesque beauty from afar last week, you might have been startled by what appeared to be an enormous flock of florescent birds, all of them rhythmically flapping their wings on the shimmering water:

Those “birds,” of course, were actually the 100-plus paddlers propelling the rainbow of brightly hued kayaks and canoes that made up the annual Schuylkill Sojourn. A seven day journey covering 112 miles of the Schuylkill River from its Schuylkill County headwaters all the way to Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row, the event has been held since 1998.

See What a Healthier River Looks Like at INVISIBLE RIVER

Performers from INVISIBLE RIVER 2014 hang suspended from the Strawberry Mansion Bridge. Credit: INVISIBLE RIVER.
Performers from INVISIBLE RIVER 2014 hang suspended from the Strawberry Mansion Bridge. Credit: INVISIBLE RIVER.

We have lots of ways to measure the improving quality of Philadelphia's two rivers, but one of our favorite is simply seeing more and more people think of the Schuylkill and Delaware as beautiful, natural places to visit for recreation and relaxation. Since everything we do comes back to protecting and enchancing water quality, we see the change in the way people think about our rivers as a real metric of success.

But, as much as our rivers have improved, not everyone knows about it, and many people are still physically cut off from accessing these urban treasures.
Helping to nudge people to the scenic and natural beauty of the Schuylkill River is INVISIBLE RIVER, a nonprofit whose mission is "to use art, outdoor activities and dynamic programming to build wise stewardship of our rivers and waterways, to create unique and otherworldly artistic celebrations and to engage the public in art and environmental education."

We can get behind that!

Over the last few years, INVISIBLE RIVER has created a lot of buzz with stunning acrobatic performances featuring dancers suspended from the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, with the river acting as a breathtaking backdrop.
This year's big event will take place Saturday, August 29th from 2 to 8 p.m. and incorporates what Artistic and Executive Director Alie Vidich calls "a more open format than previous events."

Rather than just one big performance, this year will be more like a festival on the river that kicks off with an opening performance followed by lots of cool activities, with their trademark acrobatics as the grand finale.
A processional led by Positive Movement & Ecstatic Drill Team starts things off at Mander Recreation Center at 2140 N 33rd St. and Diamond Drive at 2 p.m., and a full day of activities will center around the festival area in the parking lot next to the St. Joseph’s University Boathouse, 2200 Kelly Drive. Participants are encourgaged to park at Mander take a walk to the river from there.

As one of the event sponsors, Philadelphia Water will be there too, partnering with Mural Arts to host some activities showing people how the green tools that make up Green City, Clean Waters are making the Schuylkill River even healthier. We'll also have members of our education team from the Fairmount Water Works there to provide some family fun.

Other INVISIBLE RIVER activities include free boating and paddling lessons, fishing lessons for kids, food trucks and vendors, and a beer garden.
Those who want to catch the Strawberry Mansion Bridge performance should be there at 5:30 p.m. There are lots of cool options for watching the performance, including "Bring Your Own Boat" and  a "Front Row Seats" program that lets people rent boats from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Check out the INVISIBLE RIVER website for more details, including transportation options like bike rentals and a special Phlash shuttle to help people get to the river.

"We have seen a change in the way people view the river, especially with the artists who interact with the river and the anglers who fish in the Schuylkill," says Vidich. "But for some people, there's still this cloud of past pollution hanging over the river, and we hope events like this can help change that."  

Earth Day Exhibit Reveals Philly's Trash Problem

Artist Bradley Maule works on "One Man's Trash." Fairmount Water Works Photo.
Artist Bradley Maule works on his "One Man's Trash" exhibit. Fairmount Water Works photo.

Anyone who’s taken the time to enjoy the many scenic opportunities afforded by Philly’s waterways has had that moment—you’re soaking in the green and sunshine, marveling at the natural beauty of a river or stream cutting through the urban landscape. And then, some ugly piece of litter breaks the mirage, reminding you that you are, indeed, still in a very big city. One with a trash problem.

Bradley Maule, a Pennsylvania native and Philly transplant, has had that moment more times than he cares to count. Like many nature lovers, he often had the impulse to pick up litter someone else carelessly dropped while hiking along one of his favorite haunts, the Wissahickon Creek in the city’s Northwest. His distaste for the pervasive trash, though, soon morphed into a sort of obsession. Out of this obsession was born “One Man’s Trash,” the latest exhibit at our Fairmount Water Works, which opens (quite appropriately) for today’s Earth Day festivities.

The first in a series of “Culture and Conversation” events that celebrate the Water Works’ 200th anniversary, “One Man’s Trash” is the culmination of a year’s worth of trash collected by Maule during weekly walks in Wissahickon Valley Park, an 1,800-acre wooded gem with the Wissahickon Creek at its heart. The Mt. Airy resident and artist laid out his plans for the project on his website, Philly Skyline, and described his yearlong effort for readers:

Each week, once a week, for all of 2014, I went on 2-3 hour hikes, picking up all the litter I encountered. If something was too big to haul out, I made a note of it on my phone’s text app and made arrangements to remove it with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and Friends of the Wissahickon, the official partners on this project.

Luckily for us, Maule drew the line at picking up “organic litter”—a distinction that means we don’t have to look at a display of rotting apple cores or bags of dog waste!

The Water Works will unveil Maule’s work, which includes infographics reflecting his meticulous tally of collected litter, during a 5:30 p.m. opening reception. The exhibit will be on display through June 26, after which all the junk he’s collected will be recycled, donated and otherwise disposed of.

"A timely exhibit for Earth Day, ‘One Man's Trash’ brings to the forefront the amount of litter accrued on land, and provides an insightful look into how our behavior truly affects our water supply," says Karen Young, executive director of Fairmount Water Works.

When asked what he wants people to take away from the exhibit, Maule says he wants to inspire “…deeper consideration for the waste we each generate” and to foster awareness “that we need to treat our parks better.” In addition to compiling all the trash, he took time to look at the broader waste tied to a specific trail-side menace: the plastic water bottle.

"One of the most common objects I encountered over the course of the year was plastic water bottles—255 of them (with 43 brand names)," Maule told us. Maule also says his focus on the Wissahickon underscored a troubling connection between littering in parks and fouling up our waterways. "Almost all of Philly's big parks — Fairmount, Wissahickon, Pennypack, Cobbs, Tacony, Poquessing—exist where they do because of watersheds," notes Maule. "Unless it's picked up and properly disposed of, litter ultimately ends up in our waterways, whether directly in a place like the Wissahickon, or after a journey from city streets through gutters and sewers."

Click here to register for the “One Man’s Trash exhibit. The event is free, but space is limited.

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