Monday, May 25, 2015

Walnut2Walnut events aim to connect people with Philly's rivers

This skiff, Nemo, was built at the Independence Seaport Museum. Some Walnut2Walnut regatta participants will rent boats such as Nemo. (Photo courtesy of Independence Seaport Museum)
This skiff, Nemo, was built at the Independence Seaport Museum. Some Walnut2Walnut regatta participants will rent boats such as Nemo. (Photo courtesy of Independence Seaport Museum)

This weekend, canoes, kayaks, skiffs and whale boats will race around Philadelphia via the city's two rivers.

Saturday's Walnut2Walnut Regatta is part of the latest Independence Seaport Museum effort to remind Philadelphians that they live, essentially, on a peninsula.

“We wanted to illustrate how surrounded by water the city is,” said Independence Seaport Museum spokeswoman Hope Corse.

In addition to the 9:30 a.m. race of human-powered boats, Walnut2Walnut will feature a city-wide, river-themed scavenger hunt and a Walnut Street stroll that also will focus on Philadelphia's maritime city status and history, said Independence Seaport's Mike Flynn, director of education and interpretation. The walk and scavenger hunt both start at 11 a.m.

“It's an innovative idea to have a regatta that connects the two rivers,” said Danielle Gray, spokeswoman for Schuylkill River Development Corporation, the developer of Schuylkill Banks and a partner in the event.

The 15-mile boat race will begin on the Schuylkill River, with launch at Schuylkill Banks on Walnut Street. Racers will pass familiar sights like Bartram's Gardens, but will also see parts of the river most people don't in the lower, more industrial places near the intersection of the rivers, Flynn said.

This area was familiar to city residents of 150 or so years ago, he said. It wasn't industrial then, but rather a rural, peaceful area outside of the city's heat and summer-time diseases, he said.

“It was bucolic and gorgeous,” said Gray.

Industry came and access to the river from the bank was limited, as it still is in some stretches. Gray's organization works to open public access to the Schuylkill. “We like to say at SRDC that we are uncovering or exposing the hidden river,” Gray said. That mission made working with the Seaport Museum a natural fit, she said.

(The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, from which the Seaport Museum rents its space, has a similar mission of public access and riverfront revival on the Delaware River, and is also a major Walnut2Walnut partner.)

Even back in the days when people saw the lower Schuylkill as a summertime haven, the Delaware wasn't a common recreational boating place because it's where the larger, commercial boats traveled, Flynn said.

Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard will be warning those large vessels to be on the lookout for the little vessels, he said. There will also be motorized support boats leading the race, behind the last boater, and dispersed throughout, in case any one gets into trouble.

It's too late to join in this year's boat race, but Corse said the museum plans to make this an annual event. (If rowing the 15 miles won't ever be your idea of a good time, Patriot Harbor Lines' Walnut-to-Walnut tour follows the same route.)

Anyone wanting to walk Walnut Street or participate in the Amazing Race-styled scavenger hunt can still do so byregistering online. Scavenger hunt participants must be in teams of two or four. They must be at least 21 years old, and will only be allowed to walk, run or use public transit to complete the hunt. Both of these events also begin at Schuylkill Banks at Walnut Street.

People can also purchase spectator tickets from the website, which include access to the post-event BBQ.

See the Walnut2Walnut website for more information about the events, rules, registration fees and prizes.

Funds raised by Walnut2Walnut will benefit the Seaport Museum’s education programs, including the SAILOR program which teaches kids math and science while learning to build a boat.

PlanPhilly.com  is dedicated to covering design, planning and development issues in Philadelphia. The news website is a project of PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Wyncote Foundation.

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