NJ Urban Kayak Tour Towards Elusive River Source

Don Baugh, Upstream Alliance

Five two-person kayaks were paddled into the Delaware River from a makeshift floating dock shortly before noon Wednesday. It was the start of a six-day exploration of the nearby Cooper River, an enduring natural wonder in the middle of a densely populated area near the town of Camden.

Organizers said the aim was to find the source of the river, about 16 miles upstream. The river meanders through 17 communities before emptying into the Delaware River.

“When you go uphill, especially past the (New Jersey) Turnpike and (Interstate) 295, there is very little public access to it,” said Don Baugh, president of the advocacy group for the environmental non-profit Upstream Alliance which sponsored the trip. “The opportunity is to show what’s behind people’s backyards. For four days we will kayak and two days we will hike. We cross places that have not been traveled for 300 or 400 years.

The Cooper River Valley was settled in the late 1600s and is named after a family who owned large tracts of land in what is now Camden Town and Camden County. The waterway, which crosses streams, streams, ponds and a lake, also includes some of the most densely populated parts of South Jersey, an area of ​​over 500,000 people. The waterway was also once made up of 40% raw sewage before drinking water laws were enacted.

Don Baugh, Upstream Alliance

Don Baugh, president of Upstream Alliance, an environmental advocacy group, prepares for a six-day kayaking trip on the Cooper River in New Jersey on June 22, 2022.

Dan Keashen, a county spokesman, said despite the area’s rich colonial history, the source of the river has never been accurately mapped. A Google map of the area appears to show the river beginning in an elevated area near Blueberry Hill in Gibbsboro, Camden County. Keashen said Baugh’s expedition could help provide additional answers.

At least three other kayaks and a total of 15 explorers were expected to join Baugh at the start of the trip on Wednesday, including four local students and an Atlanta wildlife photographer who has been published in National Geographic.

Jermaine Brown, 17, a student at Urban Promise Academy in Camden, said he was excited for the adventure, despite not being able to swim.

“My mom thought I was crazy,” Brown said with a smile. “But she came here and realized it was going to be fun. She has high hopes for me, so it’s good. It’s really good.”

Jermaine Brown

Jermaine Brown, a college student from Camden, prepares to begin a six-day kayaking trip on the Cooper River in New Jersey.

Brown said he already works as a summer river guide who takes kids from downtown on kayaks to Cooper River Park, a section of the river that’s actually a lake created by a dam that controls water levels. ‘water. The park is also a favorite venue for school and university rowing competitions.

Two other students, Jaycel Santos from Camden and Andrew Coleman from Haddonfield, were also part of the expedition.

Anand Varma, a wildlife photographer who shoots for National Geographic, also joined the group.

“The specialty I focus on for National Geographic really reveals the unexpected and underappreciated diversity of our world,” Varma said. “And sometimes it takes me to the Amazon or the Arctic, but what initially inspired me was the biodiversity of my backyard in suburban Atlanta, exploring the streams behind my house and my school.

“It’s kind of peeling back the layers, getting past the concrete, trash and mud, and if you learn to look with the right eyes, this place is as beautiful as any place.”

The group plans to hike several miles a day on the river, then camp in tents at an environmental reserve in Cherry Hill each night. The final leg of the journey should be overland, hacking remote areas near the source of the river.

Anand Varma, a wildlife photographer who shoots for National Geographic

Anand Varma, a wildlife photographer who shoots for National Geographic, prepares for a kayaking trip on Cooper River.

An independent film crew is also documenting the trip and hopes to produce a film for public television. The American Water Charitable Foundation and the American Water Company of New Jersey donated $40,000 to the Upstream Alliance to support the Search for the Cooper River expedition and film.

“The purpose of this expedition goes deeper than simply finding the source of a river, it is intended to serve as a healing opportunity for the communities of Camden who have historically been denied access to these pathways. special waterways, recreational opportunities and creating global environmental equity.” Camden County Commissioner Al Dyer said in a statement. “We are thrilled that these young locals can connect with the natural beauty this county has to offer.”

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Bill Duhart can be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com.

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