by Brenda Palmer
On October 13, 2012, 31 canoe and kayak enthusiasts gathered in the parking lot of the Inn at Edgewater Acres in Alexandria, Pa. for the third annual Juniata Clean Water Partnership’s Glow Float (JCWP).
The JCWP is a non-profit regional coalition of conservation organizations, county planners, community groups, watershed groups and citizens.
The Juniata River watershed covers a substantial portion of the state including Huntingdon, Blair, Bedford, Fulton, Mifflin, Juniata and Perry Counties.
The non-profit’s mission of building and sustaining local capacity through education, assistance and advocacy, covers a lot of territory. This night focuses on river awareness of the fantastic and under-valued resource that is the Juniata River.
The Glow Float is one of several annual events that promote awareness and stewardship of the river through recreational enjoyment of the river. Another is an annual sojourn held for 3-7 days in June.
Each year highlights either the main canal of the Juniata River or one of its branches: the Frankstown branch, Little Juniata branch or the Raystown branch.
Canoes and kayaks in all forms were lined up waiting for the guides from Rothrock Outfitters to arrive with rental boats for those that did not have their own and to load everyone’s boats to shuttle upstream to the entry point.
Participants decorated themselves and their boats with glow stick necklaces. A few went a little further and wore costumes over their life jackets.
It was dusk as the paddlers slipped their boats into the chilly water. This year they had added the challenge of a moonless night.
The water level was a little low, making less push from the current, but exposing more rocks and low spots. As the paddlers maneuvered the 2.4 miles downstream to the Inn, the rocks became invisible. Light from glow sticks, giving each boat its own distinctive pattern of colors, became the only way to know the location of other boats but did nothing to illuminate water hazards.
Kristen Jovell, a teacher at Juniata Elementary School, reported hearing a screech owl. Only her third time in a kayak, she got wet when her boat took on water after going sideways on a shallow bar.
“I was cold,” she said later, “but I want to do it again.”
Reaching the Inn once again, boaters were welcomed by a bonfire, hot apple cider, hotdogs and a pot of chili provided by Boxer’s Café in Huntingdon.
The hotdogs were toasted by Mike Makufka, Executive Director of the JCWP, and his wife Darlene, who volunteers her time for all the events since budget cuts have made an AmeriCorps employee unaffordable.
Makufka’s ongoing work through JCWP offers free educational programs for schools and civic groups, and consulting with land owners on stewardship. Past projects include the Juniata Watershed Management Plan; building rain gardens and replacing asphalt with porous pavement solving a rainwater runoff problem for Tussey Mountain High School; and strategic management plan to control noxious and invasive weeds.
Despite the budget cuts in 2010 and 2011, Makufka has submitted proposals for funding for a source water protection plan for Standing Stone Creek, aquatic invasive plant education and improving river access along all the branches of the Juniata River.
He is also working with the Greenway Alliance to address issues along the Main Line Canal Greenway, working at bringing more environmental education to elementary and middle schools, and finishing up a project working with farmers in Juniata and Perry Counties on the Conservation Resource Enhancement Program (CREP).
Tonight Makufka smiles and chats about the river as a recreational resource. Makufka is a fly-fisherman and has shared his hobby with youth groups and adults.
The Juniata is known for excellent fishing. A few miles upstream, part of the Little Juniata (Little J) is a trophy catch and release trout stream and one of the nation’s few native trout breeding streams.
Here at the Inn at Edgewater Acres, patrons can fish the banks with their own equipment, use the Inn’s fly-fishing gear or even have the Inn staff arrange guide service and trip planning.
Around the fire this night after the Glow Float, everyone was in a good mood.
It was the first Glow Float for Deb and Chuck Monts from Duncansville who said they would definitely do it again despite the cold and hanging up on rocks.
Nine-year-old Iris Seguin rode in a tandem kayak (two cockpits for two paddlers) with her father, Tony.