The Upper Delaware experience
By Vidal Martinez
In the six months since I arrived as the new superintendent of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, I have attended a series of meetings and conferences and have become familiar with a variety of issues affecting the river corridor, and have acquainted myself equally with key members of the riverside community.
I learned that the mission of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River is “to conserve, protect and interpret the river, its surrounding landscape and other superlative values that qualified the Upper Delaware for inclusion in the National System of Wild and Scenic Rivers,” and that there are many partners who have embraced this mission and have taken an active role in protecting the river corridor.
But one can learn perhaps the most about the river by actually going out to experience it. I finally managed to take advantage of an opportunity to paddle the river in a kayak. The experience was wonderful, and really puts in perspective why many visitors enjoy this activity. I witnessed American shad swimming upstream to their spawning grounds, viewed awesome landscapes untouched by development, and complemented by the flight of an American bald eagle soaring by.
“Yes, indeed,” I said to myself. “This is what it’s all about, the river, and I’m proud to play a role in protecting this irreplaceable resource.”
I thought of the challenge we are currently facing to encourage young people to develop the same experience I just encountered and connect them to the outdoors. During a recent conference, I learned that young people spend an average of six hours a day on electronic games. Somehow, we need to change the culture and encourage our children to spend more time with nature.
Recently my four-year-old daughter and my 10-year-old son had their first fishing experience at a local pond. My daughter caught a largemouth bass with a little Barbie fishing pole and my son caught a 12-inch pickerel. Watching their expressions and witnessing their joy was captivating and equally rewarding. They will never forget this experience. How can we make this same opportunity available to other children and connect them to the outdoors?
But in encouraging our young people to explore these opportunities, we must assure that they have a safe experience during their stay at the Upper Delaware River. The series of drownings that have occurred this year is a great concern to me. One life lost is one too many, and I am saddened to learn that all could have been avoided by simply using a life a jacket. Despite efforts by National Park Service personnel, the National Safety Canoe Patrol and the various liveries along river to encourage visitors to use life jackets while on the river, the three victims involved with these fatalities were not using one.
Since 1980, 56 people drowned in the Upper Delaware River; 53 were male and 29 died while swimming or wading. The Upper Delaware River can be deceiving and equally inviting to swim across. Many visitors don’t understand that the river has swift currents, rapids, eddies (whirlpools), sudden drop offs, slippery rooks and floating/submerged debris. How can we collectively address this issue and save lives in the future?
It is my hope that during my tenure at the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, my staff and I can serve as agents of positive change, to bring more and more young people together with this natural treasure, while making sure they do so safely. As the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River passes its 30th anniversary, that would indeed be something to celebrate.
(Vidal Martinez is the Superintendent of the National Park Service serving in the Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River.)