Photos and Story by Rick Hiduk
Few activities beat the serenity that a paddle on the Susquehanna River can provide. In just three months, the ice will have cleared from the 444-mile waterway that is part of the National Park System, and paddlers and fishers will once again set in for much-anticipated recreation. For paddlers who have traversed all or most of the North Branch and main stem of the river, a newly created 444 Club pin is great way to acknowledge a journey that is often years in the making.
Avid paddlers of the Susquehanna River have long marked their progress at traversing the 444 miles of the North Branch that flows through Pennsylvania and covers smaller portions of New York and Maryland. Many have highlighted completed sections of the river on maps, kept notes on journals, or recorded their journeys with photos and video clips.
The new 444 Club was initiated by the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR) Water Trails Committee to acknowledge those individual’s efforts as they seek the elusive benchmark.
Endless Mountain Outfitters (EMO) owner and EMHR board member David Buck credits lifetime recreationists like Cindy Dunn, Rick Shumaker, Scott Arnold, and inaugural 444 member Bill Gibson for suggesting the formation of the club, as well as Judy Lorincz of Mehoopany, who completed her 444 Club personal goal of paddling the entire river a few years ago. A number of people notched some of the 444 miles last year after paddling with EMO from Great Bend, PA through Binghamton, NY to the French Azilum Historic Site in Bradford County.
Dunn is one of those who thinks that the formation of the 444 Club will provide an incentive to get new paddlers on the river and bring long-time recreationists back to the waterway. “This is a great idea that makes me want to paddle the whole 444 again,” she remarked, noting that her first week-long sojourn on the Susquehanna began on the North Branch. “That is where I got totally hooked on the Susquehanna,” noted Dunn, who is President and CEO of PennFuture. She served previously as Deputy Secretary of DCNR.
For Dunn and many others like her, paddling the Susquehanna River is a spiritual experience. “Look up at the Wyalusing cliffs from my canoe, I half expected to see an American Indian,” she stated. The portal to pre-European settlement makes her wonder “How many Indians gazed at the river from this vantage?” and “What did the landscape look like then?”
Dunn’s favorite stretch of the river is the Vosburg Neck in Wyoming County, with sharp cliffs on one side and verdant forest on the other. “I never fail to hear lots of bird song when I paddle through here,” she related, adding that she has seen several Eagles in the Vosburg area.
To Shumaker, the intrigue of watching the world unfold as you float through it evokes poetic thoughts. “I could wax eloquently about the joys of paddling the Susquehanna from Copoerstown to Havre de Grace,” he remarked. Shumaker paraphrased a television commercial promoting professional river cruises of Scandinavian canals that parallels the Susquehanna’s historic cities and landscapes.
“You see things differently. You get close to iconic landmarks, to local life, to cultural treasures. It’s a feeling that only the river can give you.”
The winding river is almost addictive, Dunn explains. During her sojourn through the Endless Mountains, “the views were so enticing as I paddled down each reach.” She had to know what was around the next bend.
It is hoped that members who receive the pins will be able to provide guidance to recreationists following in their wake as each plans to tackle new stretches of the river, which meanders along the borderline of New York and Pennsylvania before running from the Endless Mountains through Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake Bay near Havre de Grace, MD.
A number of one-day paddling trips, overnighters and sojourns announced by EMO will provide opportunities for paddlers to get onto the water with professional guidance and shuttle services to chalk off another segment of the river. Many of the EMO events coincide with community celebrations in river towns in Bradford and Wyoming Counties. Sojourns include overnight camping along the banks of the river at designated landings.
For a complete listing of EMO-lead events, including those that extend south from Falls in Wyoming County, log on to www.emo444.com. Planned paddling excursions that cover portions of the river through Bradford and Wyoming Counties begin with an EMHR-sponsored Heritage Sojourn from Sayre to Sugar Run, from Friday to Sunday, May 9 to 11.
On Saturday of the same weekend, birders will flock to the river and area hiking trails to participate in the annual Pennsylvania Migratory Bird Count. Set aside a few hours for a leisurely float and test your knowledge of the areas feathered friends.
The annual cleanup of river islands and the shoreline from Sayre to Northumberland is planned for Saturday, May 17, and volunteers are sought to join teams up and down the North Branch.
Pick your own time to paddle during Memorial Day Weekend as EMO shuttles river enthusiasts with reservations back and forth to its headquarters in Sugar Run, Bradford County.
Paddle to Vosburg and beyond on Saturday, May 31, when the Tunkhannock Middle School Art Show at the Howland Preserve in Wyoming County provides a great reason to pull up to the shoreline at the Vosburg Neck in Wyoming County.
Saturday, June 14 is Go PA Launch Day, and EMO will be involved at Hornbrook Park, Sheshequin Township, Bradford County and at the Howland Preserve in Washington Township, Wyoming County.
On Saturday, July 12, set in at Sugar Run and paddle downriver in time to enjoy Laceyville Community Day.
Tunkhannock comes out in full force to celebrate the Susquehanna with A Day at the River on Saturday, July 19. A kayak and canoe race from Mehoopany to Tunkhannock’s River Park is followed by a more leisurely paddle for EMO patrons that begins at 10:30 am.
Another trip to the Howland Preserve is scheduled for Saturday, July 26. The event is sponsored by the North Branch Land Trust, which recently assumed ownership of the reserve.
French Azilum, Inc. will conduct the French Azilum Heritage Festival on Saturday, Aug. 2, and paddlers can arrive via the river from Wysox by making reservations with EMO.
EMO will participate in the annual North Branch Triathlon at Wyalusing by coordinating the kayaking portion of the race. Preregistration is required.
Paddling trips continue into the autumn with EMO’s annual Pumpkin Float slated for Sunday, Oct. 5. A paddle is also in the works to coincide with the Wyalusing Fall Festival on Saturday, Oct. 11.
More information about individual trips is available by calling 570-746-9140. To learn more about the efforts of EMHR to promote recreation and heritage discoveries in the region, log on to www.endlessmountainsheritage.org.
Lifetime paddlers Joan Cashin (left) and Melody Buck took to the Susquehanna River in May 2012 to participate in the annual Great Pennsylvania Migratory Bird Count. That event is slated for Saturday, May 10 this year, but there are many other reasons to get out on the river, if not simply for peace of mind.