On October 4, 2012, 14 employees with Philadelphia’s Northeast Regional Office got a taste of the recreational opportunities that the city’s waterways offer during a Workforce Enrichment Committee organized kayaking trip on the Schuylkill River. Just 25 blocks from their office, they put on life jackets, picked up paddles, and headed out onto the water. Before they left, representatives from Schuykill Banks, a local non profit, spoke with the group about the development of the Schuykill River Park and the uses of this river as a recreation destination. The participants apparently had a taste for the outdoors and a pre-existing love of paddling, as a show of hands revealed that every single one of these National Park Service employees had kayaked in the past. After a safety lecture and a brief instructional session from Hidden River Outfitters, who provided kayaks and a guided tour, everyone was excited to get out on the river. As they got out into the water, they quickly learned the unique value that urban kayaking can impart. “The scale of the city reveals itself when you are on the water,” Philadelphia native, Paul Kenney stated.
For most of the trip, the kayakers went against the current, but after thirty minutes they reached their final destination, a dam built nearly two centuries ago in order to supply drinking water to Philadelphia residents. Today, the Fairmount Waterworks are a popular event venue and interpretive center. When built, they drew tourists from far and near, and according to the staff of Hidden River Outfitters these marvelous waterworks not only provided safe drinking water to Philadelphians, but due to their fountains and beauty they became the second biggest tourist attraction in the nation during the 1840’s. After an hour of paddling, the Northeast Regional Office staff returned to the Walnut Street dock. As they left, many had been changed by the experience. “For 14 years I’ve sat in traffic beside that river and I’ve run hundreds of miles by its side, but I’ve never felt as connected with this vital part of our city as when I kayaked on the Schuylkill for the first time,” Lisa Kolakowsky explained.