by Cassidy Quistorff, NPS Communications Fellow
The Delaware River Sojourn marked its 25th year in 2019; that’s 25 years of celebrating a river through recreation, education, and gathering diverse groups of paddlers together. The Sojourn is a seven- or eight-day trip down the River that usually consists of around 500-600 participants throughout the paddle. While the excursion had to be cancelled in 2020, there is much to commemorate in this special Sojourn.
What is a sojourn? Definitively, a sojourn is a temporary stay, or to live temporarily in a time and place. The Delaware River Sojourn is the longest and oldest of its kind, but this type of trip is a new concept for many areas throughout the country - though river sojourns are fairly common in the Northeast, particularly in Pennsylvania. For the Delaware River, it offers an opportunity to highlight its natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and rich history, and bring in new users and stewards.
For the past 25 years, River users of all experience levels have joined in the outing. Mark Zakutansky, Treasurer of the Delaware River Greenway Partnership, describes the diversity of people who join in on the trip: “The Sojourn attracts paddlers with a full spectrum of experience: those with handmade canoes, folks who are simply looking to get out on the river, it’s affordable for those coming out with their family, and offers an opportunity for people nervous about renting [canoes and kayaks] without guides or don’t know where to go…”
One of the special features of the decades-long event are the return paddlers. “… We also have long-time participants. There are people who have been coming all 25 years. It’s a family tradition for many people; their kids come and volunteer now.”
Everyone is welcome on the Sojourn, and the Lower Delaware is proud to fund youth scholarships for kids to participate. The Sojourn also offers a discounted price for first time paddlers. In addition, a full safety team is on the Sojourn to provide support and help people improve their paddling skills. With roughly ten miles traveled every day, your paddling technique is sure to be improved by the end.
While rentals can be provided on the Sojourn, that wasn’t how people always traveled down the Delaware. It was in the 1760s that Daniel Skinner, a northeastern logger, floated down the river on an 80-foot long raft made up of lumber. From Cocheton, NY to Philadelphia, PA, he and another crewman traveled about 200 miles in total. Skinner had supplied much-needed lumber to the shipbuilders, and either he or they dubbed him the Lord High Admiral of the Delaware.
As a way of honoring work that has contributed to the protection and health of the Delaware River, it has become a tradition on the Sojourn to bestow the title of Lady and/or Lord High Admiral of the Delaware to outstanding individuals. Past honorees have included those with the National Safety Patrol, local nonprofits and State organizations.
There is much to look forward to during the 2021 Sojourn! Every year there is a theme that typically centers around history, wildlife, science, or culture. The theme for the next paddle is: Focus on Fish. The itinerary includes visiting a tributary to the Delaware that recently removed a dam that will focus on the restoration of the area with natural vegetation, as well as the arrival of shad.
The Delaware River Sojourn has had remarkable successes in its 25 years, from bringing generations to experience the River to bringing opportunities to local nonprofits and organizations to share their message. With all the success of the Sojourn, Mark hopes to see these sojourns become more common throughout the Country. “I hope other regions will adopt this approach. It’s a new concept for some geographies. In a national perspective, look at Pennsylvania and Delaware and replicate that in your geography somehow…The sojourn is almost entirely supported by volunteers. Cultivating that volunteer network is possible.”For Mark, the Sojourn holds a deep connection to not only the River, but to the partners that work to make it happen. “[The Delaware River]Sojourn means something… it means community, it means conservation, and it means collaboration.”