The Conestoga river flows through our school districts, our backyards and our lives. It is the thread that connects us as a community as we share those happy moments in her waters. Whether it be fishing, kayaking, tubing, creek stomping, lying in the shade and listening to her soothing voice or sharing in the rich history of the river, the Conestoga River Club stands ready to make our river clean, healthy and accessible to all, now and in the future.
We see big things in our future! Through fundraisers, petitions, and volunteer efforts we will make our concerns heard by the powers that be.
The primary focus of our efforts will initially be focused on river access points as they pertain to the Conestoga River Water Trail, which is the stretch of the river from Brownstown below 772 to Safe Harbor.
There were originally 15 public access points along the recognized water trail, currently 2 are inaccessible and 5 others are in such bad shape as to be virtually inaccessible. We do not have even one ADA compliant river access point or public boat launch. We want to see this change! We believe everyone in the community should be able to access our beloved river.
How it all started.
Conestoga River gets a fan club
New group seeks to bolster paddling on river, improve environment
AD CRABLE | Outdoors Columnist May 31, 2020
“My passion for the Conestoga happened the first time I put a kayak in it and it took me back home. I don’t know what else to say. It just felt like home.”
Home to Todd Roy being West Virginia. Now, 15 paddling years later, the 51-year-old East Petersburg resident wants to give back. He has just formed the Conestoga River Club, a nonprofit dedicated to education, conservation and improvement, including litter cleanups, restoration work with volunteers, more river access and better launch and take-out points.
Roy, a temporarily grounded chef at a York city restaurant, launched the Conestoga River Club Facebook page and is all ears for shaping the group’s mission.
Among the possibilities: expanding the Conestoga Water Trail north of Brownstown, online paddling routes, a shuttle service for paddlers and establishing a YouTube channel for members to post and share river trips and how-to information.
Also, cultivating relationships with river landowners and getting paddlers to respect landowners’ rights, especially around portages. “I want to see landowners say, ‘Oh look, there’s someone paddling, not there goes another one of those &$@!,’ ” Roy says.
“A group for those who love the Conestoga and being on the water,” Roy wrote when he started the Facebook page. “This is a place to meet, plan trips and make friends. A group for those who live near, paddle on, or fish in the Conestoga River.” Paddling sports include kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.
Roy anticipates creating a board of directors. Revenue possibilities include grants, membership dues and selling Conestoga River merchandise. “Everyone is welcome,” he emphasized, “even if you don’t boat, float or paddle. Fishing, hiking or just sitting on the river shore sunning is all perfect for wanting to see the river flourish.”
The club picked up 81 members in its first few days. “The passionate way you describe this river has made me want to paddle it this summer,” one newbie said.
Roy is well versed in the river’s rich local and national history, such as its early mills, gun factories and parks. Where we met in Lancaster County Central Park with masks for an interview, we were in sight of both where Robert Fulton tried out his first steamboat prototype and Reigert’s Landing, where it was boasted you could board a boat on the Conestoga Navigation canal and end up in England. There is the river’s connection to “stogie” cigars and Conestoga wagons.
It’s part of his vision to make paddlers floating down the river aware of such landmarks.
He is open to ideas on the governing structure and what projects the new group should undertake. As he noted on the group’s Facebook page, “Right now we’re just a Facebook page with good intentions. There are and have been groups doing the same thing that we are setting out to do, but it is my opinion that such efforts need a generational renewal of passion.
“It’s not to do something better than somebody else who has done it, it’s to keep doing it and find new people to help me do it.”
The last major effort to nurture the Conestoga was the formation of the Conestoga Valley Association in 1956. The group’s mission included retaining river frontage and a scenic road for public use, cleaning up sewage and farm runoff pollution, restoring fish and wildlife, preserving historic buildings along the river and getting it renamed from a creek to a river.
For advice, Roy has reached out to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, Lancaster County Conservation District, a naturalist at Lancaster County Central Park and the Lancaster Conservancy.
Waterways Conservation Officer Jeffrey Schmidt invited club members to spot and report problems on the river such as downed trees, excessive bank erosion and debris buildup on bridge piers.
Roy’s relationship with the river is personal. Paddling it has helped him and one of his daughters heal from tough times.
“You’re damn right I’m going to make sure there’s some sort of legacy for at least the next generation that this river is going to be looked after and cared for and going to matter,” Roy says with feeling. “The people are going to be passionate and excited about seeing that it gets the best that it can get. That’s the purpose.”
Ad Crable is an LNP | LancasterOnline outdoors writer. Email him at [email protected].