By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
The Greater Philadelphia region is full of not only trails but also extensive waterways where people can enjoy a variety of recreational activities from bicycling to kayaking. Many times, the water and trails go hand-in-hand making it easy to bike to a location then jump into a boat for some paddling fun.
This is pretty much what a group of 26 teenagers did as part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Watershed Youth Sojourn. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that creates trails from former rails lines in order to build healthier places.
Most of the youth part of the sojourn are from Philadelphia and spent this week exploring the recreational link between Montgomery County trails and waterways.
“We see trails as an outdoor classroom,” said Anya Saretzky, the conservancy’s project manager of trail development. “The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is getting very interested in the nexus between trails and waterways.”
She said the area is home to The Circuit Trails which will be a network of 750 miles when completed at an expected date of 2040, making it one of the largest in the country. The network will cover nine counties in southeast Pennsylvania and South Jersey.
There are currently about 300 miles of the trails finished in several area counties. The Chester Valley Trail is between Bridgeport and Downingtown in Chester County; the Schuylkill River Trail has sections in Montgomery and Berks Counties; and Ridley Creek State Park Trail is located in Media in Delaware County.
Saretzky said the youth sojourn this week was a way to highlight that a lot of trails go right along the waterways. She said the teenagers are learning about the importance of conserving watershed and how it impacts the environment.
This is the second year for the youth sojourn. It’s expanded so that this year the participants will bicycle a total of 150 miles round trip in addition to other fitness activities. Many of the teenagers have prepared for the journey by participating in cycling programs. Some of the youth are part of the Cadence Touring Team which is through the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
Adiva Andrews, 16, said she joined the cycling program in March and is now an all-star member.
“I like the teamwork, the freedom and being able to ride with the group,” she said.
Emir Johnson, 14, said being able to bicycle with a group helped keep him motivated especially when going up difficult hills.
“I just learned that you got to keep going no matter what,” he said.
In addition to the riding experience, the teenagers also learned about watershed conservancy. A watershed is a stream, creek or river drainage area with natural ridges. The Schuylkill River is a large part of the Delaware River watershed. The Schuylkill River covers 11 counties including Berks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware. The youth sojourn bicycled to the Schuylkill River Heritage Area in Pottstown on Thursday to learn more about the waterway.
Some of the sojourn youth leaders taught younger children watershed health at stops along the way. During certain stops, the leaders would explain about pH balances and demonstrate how to make seed balls. The balls are made from native seeds and can be thrown in the water along the bank to prevent erosion.
After learning about how to keep the waterways healthy, the teenagers got to experience them first hand through activities like canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. Johnson was able to give kayaking a try for the first time at Green Lane Park in Montgomery County as part of the sojourn.
“It was a good team boating exercise,” he said.
Jelani Brown, 16, was Johnson’s partner in the kayak. He said the sojourn has been really fun because the group is doing a lot of adventurous activities including camping. By the end of the journey, the teenagers will have jumped in a swimming hole, completed walking tours and even gone horseback riding.
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