Todd Roy couldn’t help but compare, thinking back to the Conestoga River Club’s first volunteer meeting when, he says, only three people came together to discuss the newly formed kayaking group.
Less than two years later, a similar meeting, held this month in the city of Lancaster, drew 10 times as many people.
“It’s just exponential growth,” said Roy, the club’s founder and president, speaking both of its membership and its mission. “I struggled to make sure we didn’t just become a kayak club.”
Now, the club’s 2022 plan could help Lancaster County meet state and federal waterway cleanup goals, with club members collecting trash and litter from waterways and providing volunteer labor for collection and analysis of water samples. This is in addition to recreational floats and other excursions, as well as the club’s goal of starting a stewardship program at river access points.
Roy said he hopes all of these activities will serve current users of the river — kayakers, anglers, boaters and others — while welcoming interested newcomers, including underserved communities.
“The river belongs to all of us,” he said. “It has no particular flavor.”
The goal, Roy said, is to ensure this remains true for generations, so in 2022 club members are aiming to hold at least seven official cleanups on the river, which flows more than 60 miles before join the Susquehanna River at Safe Harbor.
The first of these cleanups, he said, will take place over Earth Day weekend (April 22-24) at Windolph Landing Park in Lancaster Township, where last year volunteers collected two lorries of waste. This included over two dozen tires.
In another cleanup last summer, club members worked with tow truck operators to remove a commercial dumpster from the waterway.
Still, there’s still a lot to be done, Roy said, noting that clearing trash and larger trash from the waterway has become something of a passion project since he started paddling the river in the spring of 2019. .
“I started to pay more attention and said, ‘Man, this is terrible. We have to do something about it,” Roy said.
testing the waters
This interest in cleaning up the river extends beyond the removal of visible contaminants, with club members planning to create a volunteer corps of water testers. On a monthly basis, trained volunteers collected samples – from Conestoga and other county waterways – and reported the results to the Lancaster County Conservation District.
“The data is being used to collect baseline water quality data from our streams where we currently don’t have much or none,” said Matthew Kofroth, district watershed specialist.
In addition to a number of chemical factors, testers record characteristics such as flow rate and temperature, Kofroth said, explaining that the results can be used to inform subsequent testing by other organizations. Volunteers also learn to periodically collect macroinvertebrates – small creatures like mayflies – whose presence is an indicator of good water quality.
According to Kofroth, Conestoga River Club members would be part of an existing group of 50 to 60 volunteers already enrolled in the program, sampling about 30 different stream segments throughout the county.
At the club meeting earlier this month, dozens of people gathered in small groups to learn about conservation efforts. Among them was Emily Smedley, spokesperson for Lancaster Cleanwater Partners, a coalition of agencies and organizations working for clean and clear local waterways by 2040.
The club’s efforts could help achieve that goal, she told the crowd.
More than kayaking
Lancaster County has more miles of degraded waterways than any other county in Pennsylvania, according to a draft report by officials with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Of the 1,432 miles of streams assessed in Lancaster County, 1,286 miles, or 89.4 percent, are considered impaired, according to the report.
The club’s attention to conservation is in addition to more than a dozen planned social events — kayaking, camping and even a likely multi-day festival — which have tentative dates scheduled for March through October, Roy said.
Those interested in following club activities should sign up for the nonprofit organization’s mailing list through the Conestoga River Club website, conestogariverclub.org, Roy said. Further information is available on the club’s Facebook page, Roy said.
The club has 42 paying members, he said on Tuesday. Roy said he hoped the club’s ambitious plan for 2022 would attract even more interest.
“For me, it was about kayaking, but listening to everyone, it’s about their individual connection,” he said.