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The Delaware River: A Wild and Scenic Treasure

The 330 miles of the Delaware make it the longest un-damned river east of the Mississippi. It has been the source of life, inspiration, power, wealth, and recreation. Flowing from its headwaters in Hancock, New York into the Delaware Bay, it provides much of the water for New York City, and spawning grounds for the American Shad. It was a highway for the valleyís early inhabitants and a habitat for rare birds and botanicals. The river is also a playground for tubers, boaters, and fishermen, and a photo opportunity for nature paparazzi.

Roebling Bridge in Reigelsville.The river roads in Bucks and Hunterdon provide access to valley vistas, parks, camping, boat ramps, and the historic river towns that grew up around ferry crossings and river-powered mills. From Easton in Pennsylvania and north of Milford in New Jersey, paths on the banks of the river or along the adjacent canals provide places to hike, bike, and in some areas, ride horses.

There are many ways to experience the river, but floating down it on an inner tube, or a raft, gives you a first hand look at nature and wildlife, and the beauty of the valley that earned the Delaware the distinction of being named a National Wild and Scenic River. The wild and scenic designation for the Lower Delaware, which passes between Bucks and Hunterdon, runs from the Delaware Water Gap to Washington Crossing.

Milford Bluffs.Start your journey north of Reigelsville. When you reach the village consider the bridge, which celebrates its centennial this year. Constructed by John A. Roebling, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Delaware Aqueduct upstream, it is a steel wire-rope suspension bridge 585 feet long.

Riegelsville was home to wealthy mill owners who used the river for transport and power. On a walk through town, youíll find impressive homes built by these successful industrialists, a theme youíll discover in many of the river towns.

Returning to the river, you pass the Milford Bluffs before coming to the towns of Milford, New Jersey and Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania. The bluffs are a unique ecologic area preserved by the Nature Conservancy and the New Jersey Lands Trust. Looking up from the surface might entice you to climb to the top for one of the best views of the valley. To reach the bluffs from Milford, travel 1.2 miles north on Route 519 to a parking lot on the left. The lot and a path to the top are not easy to find so directions from someone in Milford would be helpful.

Milford reflected in The Baker's window.Upper Black Eddy is a village along the River Road with a gas station, country store, realtor, post office, an inn, restaurant, and an antiques shop. Itís not a walking town, but Milford is, and a stroll along its main street is in order. Milfordís small downtown includes the first brew pub in New Jersey, a Victorian bed and breakfast, shops offering necessities and antiques, and the bakery and retail store for The Baker, where youíll find the same wholesome baked goods you can buy in local grocery stores across the northeast.

Back on the river, youíll notice that the local bird life is less afraid of humans floating along as birds do. You may see cormorants, Great Blue Herons, lots of ducks and geese, and perhaps a snapping turtle or two. Throw a line into the water for lunch and you might catch bass, shad, stripers, trout, sunfish, or carp. If youíre really lucky, youíll get a fishing lesson from a diving osprey.

A Great Blue Heron pauses.Your next stop is Frenchtown, where you can take a break from the water. Rent a bike at Freemanís Bicycle Shop and spend some time on solid ground. A trip into the surrounding countryside will give you a taste of rural Hunterdon. Back in town there are more than a dayís worth of interesting businesses, antique shops, art galleries, and boutiques to explore. With lots of restaurants and three country inns, Frenchtown may entice you into spending a day or two.

If you want to boat instead of float, there are many access ramps where you can put a craft into the water. One of these is near Tinicum Park, south of Frenchtown. The park has campgrounds that offer an outdoor alternative to country inns.

The street scene in Frenchtown.The river flows gently south until you reach Point Pleasant, once known as Lower Black Eddy. Youíll know youíre there when you see the stone pilings from the last bridge, which washed away in the flood of 1955. At the site of the old bridge you canít miss Bucks County River Country. Youíll see stacks of rafts, tubes, and canoes, and on a summer weekend, hoards of happy people of all ages waiting to be bussed north for their own river experience. Originally Point Pleasant Canoe and now Bucks County River Country, the company has introduced thousands of people to the river over the past three decades. If planning isnít your forte, or you donít want to make the long trip weíre taking, Bucks County River Country will provide all you need for an unforgettable day on the water.

Rafts at Bucks County River Country.Continuing south, the river winds its way down to the wing dams at Lumberville. This is another place you might want to stop and stay awhile. There are two country inns in the village and at the end of the Lumberville walking bridge there are campgrounds in Bulls Island State Park. Itís a place to steep yourself in history, or nature, or both. You can rent bikes here too, at the Lumberville General Store, and theyíll pack a picnic lunch for your ride along the canal or into the countryside. On Bulls Island, youíll need binoculars if youíre a birder. In spring and summer itís home to a wide variety of warblers, vireos, and migrating birds.

Sunset over the Delaware.South of Lumberville, the river takes you past islands and through shallows before coming to Stockton and Center Bridge. At Stockton, youíll find places to eat, art galleries, and the Prallsville Mills historic site just off the river in the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park.

Once youíre back on the river, itís just a short ride down to the busiest towns on the trip. Pull your craft out of the water here and stop to take in the many attractions in New Hope and Lambertville. The two towns have fine restaurants, historic sights, canal barge rides, train rides, art galleries, antique shops, and the new Michener Art Museum, where you can see paintings by the New Hope Impressionists.

A clear summer day on the river.Now that youíre out of the river you might want to stay out, not only because of all the tastes, sights and attractions, but also because you donít want to get caught in the Class II and Class III rapids at Wells Falls just to the south. Youíll see signs on the New Hope-Lambertville bridge warning floaters of the danger of the falls.

Get back in the water south of the falls. From here itís a bit of a float to one of the countryís most historic sites, Washington Crossing. The National Wild and Scenic River designation ends here at the parks in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that commemorate Washingtonís crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776.

Everyone's invited to share the fun on a hot summer day.From scenery to history to river town life to wildlife, you might not find another float so varied and interesting as the one youíve just taken.

If weíve peaked your interest and youíd like to paddle down the river with a group, the annual Delaware River Sojourn in early June is a trip to take. Adults, families, kids, and grandparents all go on the Sojourn, the purpose of which is to heighten awareness of the significance of the river. For more information about this annual event, visit www.delawareriversojourn.org.

Spring blossoms over the river.If youíre planning a trip on your own, the Delaware River Basin Commission offers a set of recreational maps that cover the 200 mile, non-tidal reach of the river from Hancock, New York to Trenton, New Jersey. They give you all the information you need, from the International Canoe Federationís Scale of River Difficulty to lists of canoe, raft, and tub rentals and parking areas, boat ramps, and sanitary facilities. The maps, which come in a zipper lock, waterproof bag, are $10 for the set and can be ordered from the Delaware River Basin Commission, P.O. Box 7360, West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360.

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