Delaware River Reflections

Paddlers’ reflections from the Delaware River Expedition

As a child pedaling my bike and fishing along the Cooper River with friends, we never ventured into the water. Over 40 percent of the flow of the Cooper was raw sewage.  However, since the Clean Water Act, and thanks to Camden County Board of Freeholders and Andy Kricun’s leadership at the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA), all that has changed.

The Cooper River is now clean enough to safely paddle and play in.

Last Sunday, we paddled from Philadelphia to the heart of Camden. In the very center of the city we were in a “water garden” where we observed bald eagles, juvenile shad, herons, egrets and waterways lined with trees and marsh. It was an adventure that all of us in Camden should experience–and not just once, but often, and starting in childhood.

I dream that Camden’s youth will soon ride bikes to the waterways, paddle a kayak, swim and play, and experience something that is apart from the hustle and bustle of the city while still inside her embrace. Our children, communities, and environment will all be better when this happens.

As the future Mayor of Camden, I intend to make this dream a reality.

Frank Moran, president, Camden City Council 


Thank you to everyone who helped to organize the trip of a lifetime.  To share that experience with Camden County residents will be our priority going forward.  We must offer this unique opportunity to our young men and women, who would otherwise not know what extraordinary beauty sits in their backyard.  It is inspiring.

Jeffrey Nash, freeholder, Camden County


Thank you so much for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can’t wait until Camden families are able to experience the same serenity.

Felisha Reyes-Morton, Camden community leader


The perspective gained from viewing the Delaware River from its tidal (and industrial) mainstem is unlike anything I’ve seen before.  It was all there in front of us—from the biggest derelict power plant to the smallest juvenile river herring.

I got a sense of the river’s past and its present, its limitless opportunity for wildlife, habitat and water quality restoration.  It has had so many lives in the past and has played such a major role in our nation’s history, and yet its next chapter is just now being written. It’s my hope that we continue to connect Delaware watershed communities to their river.

I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to participate in this trip. It provided an invaluable grounding for the work ahead.

Rachel Dawson, senior manager, Delaware River, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation


The Delaware is the lifeblood of Philadelphia, and in the past was the avenue for transportation and trade. Today it is an even more crucial supplier of drinking water to millions.

Yet many who depend on it have never experienced this wondrous river at the end of their streets. It is still wild and it moves to the tune of nature–tide, wind, and water from vast forests upstream.

The river reaches out to connect with those who depend on it. Public access and active programming would be great strategies to make that happen.

Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources


Unlike my rivers in the interior of Alaska, the Delaware and Cooper rivers have a long history as “working” waterways.  For hundreds of years people have been connected to the river by transportation, fisheries, energy, and industry effluent.   Although our watersheds are so different–there are only 0.3 people per square in the Delta Junction watershed in Alaska–the challenges to create and support public access are similar. The shared vision of connecting people to the vibrant verdant rivers doesn’t stop at political boundaries (and neither do the shad, egrets, and eagles that accompanied us on our paddle).

You don’t have to live on the edge of wilderness to appreciate the serenity of winding through wild rice wetlands of the upper freshwater tidal reaches, or to appreciate the paddling traditions of the Red Dragon Canoe Club, or to be awed by the tidal currents, or to feel the joy of counting fish flopping in a seine net. When I migrate back North, I will carry with me your inspiring energy to work toward connecting people to the water.

Judy Olson, Delta Trails Junction, Alaska


I’ve been trekking in various vessels on the Delaware River since 2000, and never before have I learned so much as I did this past Saturday!

Upstream Alliance organized a three-day odyssey for area leaders interested in stewardship of the Delaware River. They ranged from environmental educators and elected freeholders to the secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the chair of the William Penn Foundation board of directors.

What we learned was impressive, too.

We dropped a net at the river’s edge as we launched from Beverly, New Jersey. We found dozens of wriggling fish, including the juveniles of the iconic shad.  They appeared energetic and ready for their long migration to the ocean, where they will live before traveling back to the Delaware to spawn.

The historic sites along the river as we paddled were amazing. I have previously studied many important sites along the river, but on this trip was introduced to the Red Dragon Canoe Club, one of the oldest boating clubs in the nation, and the oldest angling club, Schuylkill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania, perched overlooking the Delaware.   That quaint old board and batten structure built in 1732 was relocated in the mid-19th century due to the deteriorated water quality on the lower Schuylkill.

With a change in the weather intensified by a Canadian high-pressure system and tropical storm Maria, we had an intense day of paddling.  Winds were a steady 10 to 15 miles per hour with gusts. Seventeen miles of paddling on flat water (albeit with the help of the tide) is challenging in such conditions.

We managed nonetheless to make it on schedule to Palmyra Cove for lunch and a freshwater mussel identification exercise.  I have long heard about the value of mussels to water quality, but little did I realize that the tidal stretch of the Delaware has some of the richest mussel habitat in the watershed. Moreover, it appears to be growing. Though we found several species of native mussels, the most eye-opening discovery was that 80 percent of the shells we collected belonged to a non-native species, the Asiatic clam.  In fact, all I picked up were Asiatic invaders.

As we approached Center City, the scenery featured industrial artifacts, dominated by the former power plants at Port Richmond and Penn Treaty Park, as well as the Reading Railroad coal “gangway.” And the majestic bridges! As much as I love the Ben Franklin Bridge, I couldn’t help thinking the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge provides a cross-sectional view akin to an enormous cathedral knave.

It was a great day.  At the end, we shared words about what we saw. “Opportunity,” “majestic,” and “changing” were some of the words shared.

Patrick Starr, executive vice president, Pennsylvania Environmental Council

Click here to see pictures from the expedition