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Canoers take ‘cleaner’ Susquehanna trip

Many on scenic Riverfest trek say the river looked good on a picture-perfect day.

Kayaks line the shore of a boat launch after Riverfest 2008 ended Sunday at Hunlock Creek.

Fred Adams /the Times Leader

HUNLOCK TWP. – Riverfest 2008 wrapped up on Sunday with about 100 kayakers and canoers emerging from the Susquehanna River after a scenic trek from Nesbitt Park in Wilkes-Barre to a boat launch near the Garden Drive-In.

“It was awesome!” said first-time kayaker Nicole Sandy, 31, of Moscow.

“It even inspired us. I think we’re going to buy kayaks now,” she said of herself, her sister Angela Sandy, 26, and cousin Valerie Horchos, 30, of Wyoming.

The women were part of a group of about 100 people who participated in Sunday’s trek.

Riverfest began Friday evening with music, food and activities on Public Square and continued Saturday with a water trip from the Apple Tree Launch at Harding to Nesbitt Park, where activities continued that afternoon. The approximately decade-old event expanded from one to three days this year.

David Buck, owner of Endless Mountain Outfitters and a Riverfest organizer, said warm, sunny weather helped make it “a wonderful weekend. We had a great turnout (and) the water trips were spectacular,” he said.

This was Horchos’ third year participating in Riverfest.

“I didn’t know they did anything like this before Riverfest, and then I found it and I’ve gone ever since,” she said.

Nicole Sandy said she was surprised to find the scenery “very pretty” because she thought the Susquehanna was a “dirty” river.

“We saw a few floaters out there. Some fish didn’t make it,” she said.

But most others thought the river was relatively clean.

Scott Tritt, 46, of Dayton, Ohio, said he read about Riverfest on a Web site and invited his friend, Jeff Fague, 55, of Danville, to join him for some kayaking while Tritt was in the area working a temporary job.

Tritt said he heard that the Susquehanna was a “nice, big river,” and he found it to be “nice, clean (and) beautiful” on Sunday.

Paddler and river advocate Don Williams said Sunday was a “picture-perfect day, except for the headwinds.”

Comments that Williams heard from people were “mostly, ‘It’s a lot cleaner than I thought it would be.’ And especially today, they said it was a lot cleaner once we got out of Wilkes-Barre. So it was all positive,” he said.

“This is great to get 200-and-some boats on the river. Actually, with today, probably over 300 boats on the river, and get people out here. We saw eagles, king fishers, peregrine falcons, a bunch of blue herons,” he said.

Susquehanna River Adventures owner Frank Kratz, who helped with the safety component of the kayak/canoe trips, said he heard from customers that “they enjoyed it completely. And I actually solicit feedback from the customers, … and I’ve received all positive feedback.”

Kratz said the river is cleaner than some people think. He said the water quality of the river changes “from where the Lackawanna (River) enters the Susquehanna to a few miles south of Breslau.”

But, Kratz said, because there’s “a lot of foam out there this time of year,” iron oxide from acid mine drainage infiltrates the foam and makes it “look like brown whipped cream” floating on the water that some people might mistake for waste. Floating algae blooms can also be stained by the iron oxide, he said.

“My most memorable activity was standing at the Coxton Bridge in a safety boat and watching the entire 200-plus group of boats come down the river all at one time. All these flecks of color just packed across the whole width of the river with the sun behind it. It was very surreal, just watching them go by, every single boater. Looking at their faces, you could see they’re relaxed, enjoying themselves. That’s what I remember most,” Kratz said.

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