- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. For some paddlers traveling down the Potomac River this week, the most valuable tools aren't their canoes or paddles they're their water guns. If it weren't for those, the 85-mile trip down the river in 90-degree heat might actually feel like work.
After camping out Sunday night, about 80 people hopped into the Potomac River in Shepherdstown on Monday en route to Fletcher's Boat House in the District. Throughout the trip, called the Potomac Sojourn, more than 120 people will join to take in the river's scenery and learn more about its culture, history and surrounding communities.
For some paddlers, Monday's 14-mile trip to Harpers Ferry alone was a memorable and tiring one.
"I'll remember the miles we went today," said Marcus Campbell, a 14-year-old student at Anacostia High School in Southeast. "I already got some muscles, but I need some more."
Only a few minutes' drive by land, it took almost eight hours to get down the river.
For the rest of the week, though, they will not have to listen to the roar of traffic just the sounds of light conversation and the water steadily lapping against their boats.
The sojourn is organized by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, a nonprofit group that builds partnerships with various organizations and communities to raise awareness about the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The alliance has organized sojourns along the James, Patuxent and Susquehanna rivers the past two years, but this is its first down the Potomac.
"The sojourns are a great vehicle to bring people into direct contact with the river," said Bob Murphy, the Potomac Sojourn coordinator.
The trip is open to any outdoors enthusiast, who will spend the days paddling and the evenings camping. Guest speakers and visits give participants a sense of the surrounding area.
Marcus and a handful of his classmates were sponsored by the D.C. Watershed Protection Division to participate in the sojourn through a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The students joined beginners and experts alike in traveling the Potomac, a trip Hamid Karimi, the division's program manager, said he hopes will teach the students more about the water that flows from West Virginia to the faucets back in the city.
"If they see how pristine and beautiful it looks here, when they get back to D.C., they won't drop their Styrofoam cups or trash into the water," said Mr. Karimi, 52. "I think it's a great experience."
The journey had worn out many by lunchtime. Mr. Karimi, who participated in his first sojourn about 17 years ago, found a way to make the trip easier. "This time, I brought two of my kids along to paddle," he said.
Ralph Kofroth of Reading, Pa., has paddled for the past 30 years, participated in six sojourns and intends to paddle in three more next year.
"The people on sojourns are what make the sojourns great," said Mr. Kofroth, 67. "The camaraderie the people are great."
Still sleepy and tentative with each other early Monday morning, paddlers were splashing and swimming and exchanging calculated water-gun attacks after lunch. Some pulled off to the side to cast a fishing line, while one grabbed a dead fish and tried to squeeze life back into it.
The boaters saw little pollution on this part of the journey. In recent decades, the river has been cleaned up, mostly because of new agricultural and water-treatment practices.
Still, pollution remains a problem.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been discharging sludge into the Potomac River since 1989 under a permit issued by the EPA. The permit expired in 1993, but the EPA issued a new one in March, despite scientific reviews that say the dumps endanger wildlife.
"We still have a ways to go," said Jim Cummins, associate director of living resources at the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin and an avid paddler. "It's been great to see the growing interest of the river, that it's no longer taken for granted. It's a precious resource that deserves all of our attention."
The Potomac River flows nearly 400 miles from the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia to Point Lookout, Md., at the tip of St. Mary's County on the Chesapeake Bay. The Potomac Watershed is the fourth-largest on the East Coast.
For some, it takes the experience of being on the river to truly appreciate it. Without the adventures on the water or on the campgrounds along the shore, people may have fewer reasons to want to save the river, said Marian Huber, National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Project coordinator.
"I don't think people will make the efforts if people can't come down and do something like this," Mrs. Huber said. "You have to have a relationship with the river."


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