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Personal Stories from the River: Mark Nevenglosky

Tue Jun 29, 2010 / Sierra Gladfelter

 EPA’s Office of Wetlands,Oceans and Watersheds Sustainable Communities Healthy Watersheds 2009 Annual Report (840R09001)

I believe that paddling a river or stream gives one an increased awareness of the health of the water. Paddling and being up close to the river provides the opportunity to observe what is actually in the river, along its banks, and entering via manmade structures. It is encouraging to see plant and animal life, while upsetting to see various trash or pollutants in and alongside the river. I feel that even as someone who is environmentally conscious, after paddling a river, it changes my awareness about the health of that particular river. The river becomes one of my recreational areas, just as a sports field or park is a recreational area. Most people would be upset about seeing trash on their baseball field, soccer field, or playground. After paddling a river, I feel the same way about the river. As I paddle a particular river more and more, I become more aware of changes in the river and what's in the river. I also start to take notice of what's around the river which may lead to a increase or decrease in river health. What may skew a paddler's ability to judge river health is what is in the river that you cannot see. A paddler may think they are very aware of the river health, but without knowing what is draining in, coming from runoff, and mixing into the river, they may actually start getting a false awareness of river health. That awareness of river health takes more than just padding a river. Another aspect missing from paddling a river is the knowledge of the health of the river further up or down river. Most paddler's focus on a particular section of the river, most likely the larger deeper sections, when a very important part of river health comes from the small creeks, streams, and other tributaries of the river.

I don't have enough experience on other rivers to compare with the Schuylkill River, but I can compare the various sections of the Schuylkill River against each other. I have observed the most obvious large trash/pollutants coming from the upper and lower parts of the Schuylkill River. The middle and lower portions of the Schuylkill River have the most storm water runoff contributing to pollutants. The upper has abandon mine drainage. Almost all parts of the Schuylkill River and its tributaries have work to do to improve overall river health. The whole of Schuylkill River is only as good as the sum of its parts.

During the Sojourn, I was comfortable enough to paddle, to splash, and to wade in the river, although I tried to make sure i would washing / sanitizing my hands before touching food without. Clarity is a different story. Clear water does not always mean clean water. Clear water may mean some pollutant has killed everything in the water. I was fairly comfortable with the clarity of the Schuylkill River. I did notice freshwater clams which are a contributor to improving water clarity.

However, I am still amazed at the amount of tires and shopping carts in the upper Schuylkill River. I am also impressed how many less tires and shopping carts are there as compared to a few years ago. I was shocked a few years ago, when I first learned about the amount of runoff and operation of the Philadelphia Sewer system and its drainage into the Schuylkill River. I feel like this is a huge contribution to poor river water quality and many people don't even know about it.

Some rivers, especially the Schuylkill, have gained a stereotype status of being a very dirty, polluted body of water. I find that most people who express that opinion have little first hand experience actually getting up close to, on, or in the river. The Schuylkill is far from a pristine river, but it cleaner than some people think, and its quality is improving. There is significantly less major garbage in the Upper Schuylkill River. Other areas seem to be making improvements. I am discouraged when I see new development along the river with a lack of tree line buffer area. Although this practice seems to have slowed down, there is still new construction close to or right alongside the river which is removing the natural buffer between developed land and the river itself.

My time on the Schuylkill River Sojourn has more closely connected me to the river. I often find myself slowing down over a bridge crossing the Schuylkill just to take a look at the water, the level, and if anyone is down paddling in the river. The Schuylkill River has much more natural beauty than most people realize. When someone makes a negative comment about the Schuylkill River, I find myself quick to defend it, and explain how it is actually a nice natural area. The Schuylkill River is much more than just this natural feature flowing through the area I spend most of my time in. It is something you cannot truly take in and understand until haven't spent days on, in, and alongside it.

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