Home / Blogs / 50 Stories: The Connecting Power of the Susquehanna Sojourn by Cindy Dunn
August 18, 2021
As anyone in education knows, when you want someone to learn more deeply about or embrace a topic, they have to make a connection.
When the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay opened the Pennsylvania office in 1987, many people in the commonwealth didn’t know the Susquehanna was the main source of freshwater to the Chesapeake. As a result, a major focus of the ACB office in Pennsylvania was to make the connection between citizens, local governments, farmers, and businesses to the rivers of the Chesapeake.
Cindy on the side of a canoe on the Susquehanna
While on a river awareness trip organized by a local college, I met Bill Eberhardt, the lead environmental engineer for Proctor and Gamble and an avid paddler from the North Branch area. We started brainstorming the idea of a multi-day river awareness event that would educate locals and paddlers alike about the value of the Susquehanna and its connection downstream to the Chesapeake Bay. We continued to occasionally discuss the idea when Bill came to Harrisburg for meetings, and finally decided to give it a try and began planning the first sojourn for 1990.
The first sojourn took place from below the New York state line in Sayre to Wilkes-Barre. From the beginning, the sojourns covered long distances with substantial daily mileage. The most rewarding part of leading the sojourns was watching the paddlers, local officials and local citizens get so excited about a river they didn’t know about – whether they were local and just took it for granted, or a paddler from afar learning about the Susquehanna first hand.
1996 Susquehanna Sojourn
Another early benefit became clear as time went on. The sojourns brought key partners together. Mike Lovegreen, who was the District Manager for Bradford County and an organizer for the first sojourn, knew the southern tier New York counties as well as his counterparts in Pennsylvania. He was a key player who opened doors to the farm community and other county leaders.
Over the years the sojourn “family” knit together EPA leaders who routinely participated and got to know each other at a different level than a traditional meeting would afford. Bill Matuseski, EPA’s Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program and his team attended every year. Peter Marx remains very active in Bay matters to this day. It was very typical for DCNR secretaries, SRBC, and other state government leaders to paddle with local river enthusiasts and local mayors. It always surprised me how many mayors paddle! On the West branch, Rick Vilello was the mayor of Lock Haven and is now the Deputy Secretary of Community Affairs and Development at the Department of Community and Economic Development – assisting all local governments in PA. Needless to say, Rick helps communities understand the value of their local river. Due to the relationships gleaned from paddling, sharing meals and camping in tent “villages” with these folks, we forged relationships that served the partnerships needed for decades of Chesapeake Bay work, as people’s roles changed over the years.
Cindy in the early 1990s gesturing towards the Susquehanna
At a personal level, leading the sojourn helped me grow as a person and a leader. Nothing is more logistically challenging than an ever moving week -long event where dozens of people need food, water, camping and water safety, not to mention an array of educational programs and media events en route on the Susquehanna. Sojourns also afforded me the opportunity to get to know the Susquehanna at a much deeper level. I can still remember the awe I felt on that first sojourn on the North Branch as the river dropped away on the long reaches in front of us through gaps in the “Endless Mountains.” I understood why the American Indian people named the Susquehanna a word meaning “long reach river.” Making all of those connections over the years, I now understand the powerful long reaches of the Susquehanna.
Cindy Dunn, is a former Alliance employee and the current Secretary of Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is a dedicated and down-to-earth environmentalist. Throughout her impressive career, Secretary Dunn has woven together a fascinating journey of restoration work throughout Pennsylvania. Years later, she continues to support advocacy for a watershed that supports over 18 million people.
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