Some people can’t stomach the thought of the Susquehanna River’s North Branch being recognized as Pennsylvania’s “2016 River of the Year.”
No sooner had the water body that slices through the Wyoming Valley’s core been announced as a nominee for the title than critics began harping:
The fish within it are sickly. I wouldn’t even launch a boat on it.
Those Negative Nellies, who speak about the stream as if it’s a cesspool, are completely missing the point of this purely ceremonial designation and the good-natured, awareness-building competition behind it. The Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers runs the annual contest to get state residents – and, no doubt, media outlets such as ours – thinking and talking about a vital natural resource that ripples through our communities in its ceaseless rush downstream.
Do we value our water?
Do we understand its plight, and will we fight to clean and protect it? Will we, at the very least, visit a website – www.pariveroftheyear.org – to cast a vote before Dec. 15 for the Susquehanna, so it gets some added recognition? A $10,000 grant hangs in the balance.
The agency that nominates the winning entry – in the Susquehanna’s case this year, that would be the Towanda-based Endless Mountains Heritage Region – is expected to use the money for a year-long series of river-celebration activities. Events will include a sojourn for canoers and kayakers.
Other streams in contention for top billing: the Kiski-Conemaugh and the Ohio rivers to our west, as well as the Lackawanna and Lehigh rivers, both of which lap at parts of Luzerne County. Vote for the river to which you feel the closest connection.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources supports the contest, which serves to spotlight each river’s scenic beauty, its recreational uses – and, in too many cases, its ongoing challenges.
The North Branch’s troubles have been well documented. Our local portion of the river suffers from continued acid mine drainage (an unforeseen consequence of coal mining), the periodic release of raw sewage (due to antiquated pipes in certain communities) and other pollutants. More recently, the region’s natural gas industry has posed new risks.
Over the years, the Susquehanna River Institute at King’s College and groups such as the Riverfront Parks Committee of Wilkes-Barre have highlighted the 460-mile river’s struggles and documented its hard-earned, water-quality improvements. Those mayfly swarms in mid-summer at the Market Street Bridge are testament to good things happening in the water, remember.
While the Susquehanna’s North Branch might not yet be a pristine river, it’s one we should deeply appreciate. And be willing to champion.