The Susquehanna River gets a bad rap, in my opinion. Growing up close to the river, I’ve heard people say they would never eat the fish or even go swimming in the mighty waterway. I’m happy to say I’ve done both.
Be what it may, and think however you want, but the Susquehanna River is an absolutely magnificent creation. Myself, along with 13 others from the Greater Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, toured the river Friday for the first Artists River Tour in conjunction with the Wyoming Valley RiverFest.
Thanks to Susquehanna Kayak and Canoe Rental from Falls — and its wonderful guide AJ — no one in the group had an issue navigating the sometimes-rough passages.
And thanks to Jan Lokuta, everyone who took part is a little bit smarter. Throughout the morning, Jan, a Dupont native and walking Pennsylvania encyclopedia, explained many different aspects of the river.
Jan told us how Campbell’s Ledge got its name — there are two stories. One tale was that a man named Campbell was chased by Native Americans to the ledge and rather risk capture, he jumped into the river. If you’ve ever seen Campbell’s Ledge, you know it’s impossible to jump into the river from there.
The second name for the ledge comes from Thomas Campbell, who was the author of the poem “Gertrude of Wyoming.” The state Wyoming is actually named after the Wyoming Valley, due to the popularity of the poem.
According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Campbell’s Ledge is also known as “Dial Rock” because early settlers used the ledge as a sundial.
Throughout the trip, kayakers would meet in the middle of the river to hear the history lesson from Jan. It was truly extraordinary.
Nature in action
Along the way there were certainly many opportunities to see the river’s wildlife, as well as some of its natural beauty. We saw a bald eagle about halfway through our trip and a handful of blue herons. As we started our journey, a lonely turtle sat idle on a nearby rock in the middle of the river before splashing into the depths when we came closer.
Our trip started in West Pittston with Susquehanna Kayak shuttling us to the Apple Tree Boat Launch in Harding. From there, the trip included two stops for artists to set up show on the shoreline. Floating under four different bridges while making our way back to the West Pittston River Commons was a little creepy, but an enjoyable experience.
Sue Hand, an artist from the Back Mountain, painted four oil-based canvases along the way. Photographer Bill Brandenburg, originally from Pittston, brought his camera equipment to get some shots of the river. Everyone else was just along for the ride.
Hand was incredible as she painted on 4×6 canvases. She stood there on the shore, and within five minutes, she had a beautiful piece of art. She literally recreated the river. It was awesome!
Diane Madl, a representative from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, was able to give us some background on many of the species of birds throughout the river.
While the river does have a calm feel, extraordinary views and natural beauty, there are stark reminders of its past and that humans exist around the river. There’s trash on the shoreline from people fishing or camping, but in this day and age that’s expected.
The river was very shallow from Harding to West Pittston. And being on the river you couldn’t help but think of the anniversary of the Agnes flood of 1972 and how powerful the water must have been. The most recent Greater Pittston flood occurred after Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. Paddling under the Coxton Bridge, you could see a giant tree wedged up by the railroad tracks. Water is powerful.
The Wyoming Valley RiverFrest is a three-day event held at at Nesbitt Park in Wilkes-Barre. The event runs through Sunday with opportunities to take a tour of the river on each day. For more information visit www.riverfrontparks.org.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick