13 Ways to Paddle PA: 2023 River Sojourns offer familiar routes and new opportunities

In the months ahead, 13 paddling trips and workshops will take place across Pennsylvania with the goal of promoting interest in paddling and stewardship of the environment. 

The Pennsylvania River Sojourn Program provides annual mini grants to events that provide a welcoming and inclusive space to build confidence on the water and to cultivate an appreciation for the state’s natural resources. When reviewing applications, the selection committee looks for ideas that don’t just show people how to paddle but also teach them about the places they paddle through. 

The Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers (POWR) administers the grant program in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The purpose is twofold: to counter the perception of Pennsylvania rivers as unusably dirty, which has historically kept people away, and to foster stewardship by getting Pennsylvanians out onto their local waterways.

You have to recognize that waterways are enjoyable places to be and recreate. Then people get involved.

Thanks to decades of restoration work, waterways that had historically been polluted now flourish with new life. Each sojourn mini-grant includes funding for an educational component on the history of these areas and the wildlife that call them home. Some of this year’s sojourns feature presentations from experts, including master naturalists, historians, and government officials. Many also include a river cleanup or other preservation project. 

The Pennsylvania Sojourn Program is a great way to welcome people to paddling, as well as to encourage the next generation of river stewards.

PEC’s Program Manager for Watershed Outreach, Tali MacArthur, said the trips are a chance for people who might not feel comfortable enough to plan an outing on their own to “dip their toe” into a paddling sport.

MacArthur described the process as a ladder of engagement: first people interact with the water, then they learn about the organizations protecting it, and then they get involved. 

“You have to recognize that waterways are enjoyable places to be and recreate,” she said. “Then people get involved.”

After last year’s sojourn on French Creek, the French Creek Valley Conservancy — which hosted the event and sponsored the creek’s successful bid for 2022 Pennsylvania River of the Year — saw a spike in membership. 

When awarding grants, POWR also looks for groups that reach communities who have been under-representation in the paddling world, as well as trips that take fresh approaches. 

This year’s 13 grant recipients are offering familiar features as well as new and exciting excursions.

Thirteen sojourns will take place this year on waterways across Pennsylvania.

Celebrating its 25th year of sojourning, Schuylkill River Greenways is hosting a seven-day, 113-mile guided canoe and kayak trip on the Schuylkill River. Live music and celebration dinner at the SRG office in Pottstown will conclude this special anniversary expedition. 

For the first time, the Conestoga River Club is partnering with Lancaster Pride for a float on June 4 in celebration of Pride Month. The outing also falls during Lancaster Conservancy’s 7th Annual Water Week. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are encouraged to participate. For any event, people can sign up for the entire sojourn or for as much of it as they are able. It’s another way the grant program tries to make the events it supports accessible and inclusive.  

In Pittsburgh, Friends of the Riverfront is teaming up with the outdoor shop Three Rivers  Outdoor Company to host workshops on safely navigating locks, including an opportunity to paddle through a lock and dam on the Allegheny River. Unlike most of the other outings, this workshop is designed for intermediate-level paddlers. “All paddlers should have some experience paddling a kayak on their own and a basic knowledge of river safety,” the group says on its website. Organizers hope this event challenges the idea of locks and dams as impassible barriers.