MONT CLARE - The 6th annual Schuylkill River Sojourn stopped by Mont Clare Wednesday as part of their week-long boating trek.
The boaters made camp at Lock 60 for the night, where they were taken care of by the Schuylkill Canal Association (SCA). The sojourn is sponsored by the Schuylkill River National & State Heritage Area.
Many local residents not only took part in the sojourn, but they also came out to check out the scene on Wednesday.
"I've seen them (the sojourners) up at Manatawny Park a few years ago, but it's my first time here," said Betsy Amalong. Amalong visited Lock 60 to greet the sojourners when they came in with her family, who were self-described "canal collectors."
The boaters arrived somewhat late this year, around 5 pm. After their lunch at Linfield Landing, they experienced some bad winds and slack currents. The paddlers travel strictly downstream, North to South, beginning in Schuylkill County.
The Mont Clare Fire Police volunteers were on the scene as a safety measure. They watched over the campsite as the boaters went to dinner.
"We do this every year," said Walter Chroma of the fire department.
Safety is also taken care of on the water. Experienced paddlers stay close to the newer boaters. The safety sojourners make sure everyone stays in bounds and that everyone is okay.
Many boaters from past sojourns came out to help and stay for the spaghetti dinner. Current paddlers range in age from 12 to their late seventies.
The experience level of the boaters also varies. In addition to their daily safety lessons, instructional lessons are also given so that paddlers know what to do in case of an emergency.
"Some are very experienced paddlers, while some don't have much experience at all," said Betsy Daley. "It's one extreme to the other."
After the sojourners docked at Lock 60, they were shuttled to Pottstown in a bus to retrieve their cars. Some boaters continue on for the whole week, while others only participate for a day or few. The sojourners are identified by badges they wear around their necks with different colored meal tickets.
While in Mont Clare, the SCA helps the boaters set up camp for the night. After the canoes and kayaks are dragged out of the river, the paddlers set up camp. Once they get the chance to shower and change, they take part in an itinerary of events, including a butterfly presentation and a campfire, all provided by the SCA.
Sojourner Betsy Quant said the SCA "really made us feel welcome. It's a great organization to be in if you're in the area."
"There are so many good things to say about the sojourn," said boater Ellen Joyce. "I'd recommend it to anyone, as long as they like to paddle." Joyce was rained out last year with many others, so she came back this year to finish. "This is the best, or most well run, sojourn of the few that exist."
Agnes Wiedmann, who's been paddling for a good 35 years, was also rained out last year, but she loves the sojourn experience. Wiedmann started out canoeing and is now onto kayaks. She made the trip this year with her daughter. "It's just perfect. Good day, warm weather," said Wiedmann. "It's interesting learning about the lock. I'm really surprised how far along they are."
Every paddler suggested more people get involved. The sojourn is highly recommended. And everyone is also looking forward to coming back to the area to check out the restoration of Lock 60 and to try the Schuylkill Loop Trail.
Clyde Croll and his son were also in attendance. Croll's uncle, Emmanuel Schaffer, used to be the locktender of the canal. Croll recalls living at the lockhouse when the lock generated electricity and used mules to pull the barges through the canal during his youth.
"I used to run around here and swim up at the dam. I learned to swim at the dam," said Croll.
Lock 60 has seen a lot of history throughout its years. And with the restoration currently underway, it will see a lot more. Canal Day is June 27, and the sojourn will return next year with a fresh batch of boaters and some returning troopers. For more information on the SCA, call 610-917-0021.