Thursday, May 30, 2013
This place almost wasn’t. It was nearly destroyed by the placement of a dam in the 1960’s. Construction on the Tocks Island Dam was supposed to start in 1967. I was grateful to have the opportunity to take a group of students snorkeling 38 years after the dam idea was defeated. This might not have been possible it weren’t for the actions of a few committed citizens. What we do matters. This was the second day on the river for about 100 United Nations school students who were participating in a three day canoe trip down the Delaware with the Delaware Riverkeeper (www.delawareriverkeeper.org). Six of them joined me in the river to experience the underwater side of the Delaware. Clouds of juvenile fish huddled in the lee of every large rock. The students picked out numerous juvenile freshwater mussels. Juvenile anything is good news. It means the parts of the river system are reproducing. It means the continuance of species and the critical roles they perform. In the case of mussels, it’s water filtration. The Delaware River population removes sediments and algae from the water column in addition to disease causing organisms, as they filter an estimated couple billion gallons of water each day. We admired caddis fly larvae, three species of snails, and the clean river scape as we crawled our way upstream. We turned and drifted over beds of diverse submerged vegetation interspersed among clean cobble. It’s a feeling as close to flying I have ever been able to get to without being in the air, and I think the students felt the same sense of awe and freedom. A few fly fishermen were wetting their lines just downstream as I stowed gear. One landed a nice buck shad. Stoneflies flew from the shoreline out over the river and I realized I was in the middle of a huge hatch. Stoneflies are indicators of good water quality. Stoney nymphs crawl from the water onto land where they metamorphose and emerge as winged adults. I watched hundreds of adults launch from the long shoreline grass and said “this is amazing” aloud. One of the fishermen replied “This river has a lot going for it” Yes it does, and the Delaware Riverkeeper organization that works to protect the Delaware, is one of those things along with the 100 students who are now connected to this amazing river thanks to their efforts. The future of the river is in our hands now, just as it was in the hands of those who decided to shelve the Tocks Island Dam idea in 1975. The decisions we make and the actions we take will dictate whether there will be juvenile fish, mussels, and students here in another 38 years. I hope we choose wisely.