VERNON, N.J. - The group of river travelers pulled their boats onto the
launch under a rainy overcast sky. It was day three of a 17-day journey
down the Delaware River, a trip sponsored by the New Jersey Department of
State together with the Department of Environmental Protection, the
Commission on American Indian Affairs, the Commission on National and
Community Service, the Delaware & Raritan Greenway and the Bayshore
"I hope at the end of this, there will be a better understanding of the
lessons, legacies and contributions of our past generations," Secretary of
State Regina Thomas said in an earlier interview.
History Along the Delaware Celebrating New Jersey's Resources, Cultures and
American Indian Heritage was the third in a string of programs the
Department of State initiated to bring awareness to the state's multitude
of cultures. Last year Thomas initiated education about the Underground
Railroad and the Battlefield of Monmouth. History of the river and its
first people will spread to libraries throughout the state in summer
programs and into a few schools during the end of the school year.
The journey began on June 3 at High Point, Sussex County, where the
planning committee joined in a circle to be smudged in preparation for the
experience. Tobacco was given to everyone to hold in their left hand before
being offered in the fire as prayer.
Urie Ridgeway of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribe sang a prayer. After
prayer ties were placed in a bundle that was carried throughout the trip
with pieces of red cloth from each participant, the circle was released to
a flotilla of kayaks and canoes.
Daily stops were made along the way to highlight New Jersey's historical,
cultural and environmental resources. The landing in Vernon recognized the
successful four-year effort of the state DAG, DOS, DEP, local historical
societies and individuals to list Black Creek on the N.J. Register of
Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
As the last glacier retreated north 13,000 years ago, it spilled a 200-foot
lake into the area before it eventually dissipated. The post-glacial lake
was surrounded by hardwood forest and provided a valley of water lilies,
cattails, edible roots and other plants where 500 generations of people
lived and thrived drinking from the Delaware's clear sweet river water
before their culture collapsed into silence. When it was discovered last
decade, previously disconnected groups of Lenape in New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Canada and Delaware rallied to protect the site.
The case was represented by attorney Greg Werkheiser of Piper Rudnick in
Washington, D.C. who was brought in by Lenape Nation Inc. of Pennsylvania,
then under Chief Bob Red Hawk Ruth. Werkheiser gave $748,000 in pro-bono
work to the cause.
In the following days, the travelers poured through the Delaware Water
Gap's stony ridges, south to the river's reception of its second largest
tributary, the Lehigh River making its way through Pennsylvania's suburbs.
The rushing waters grind over Reading Prong's four miles of hard granite,
quartz and gneiss, over the hard shale where dinosaur footprints still lie
beneath the moving waters. Below Easton the river widens and becomes
shallow as it spreads around dots of islands built by materials the
glaciers left half a million years ago. Passing Trenton, the river turns to
rapids as it cascades over 50 million year old sand, clay and gravel
sediments then the landscape flattens for another 134 miles.
The event traveled 280 miles through 10 counties and 41 municipalities
bringing together people from throughout the region. Stops along the way
recognized and shared feasting and dance with the Ramapo, the Rankokus
Powhatan and the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape who celebrated the reaffirmation of
the Pact of Friendship between the Swedes and the Lenape with a
representative of the Swedish government.
The Delaware's waters flow south, mixing with salt water in estuaries as it
meets the Atlantic Ocean at Cape May. The sojourn concluded at the Cape May
Lighthouse as it began, with a prayer circle.
"When I came on board as secretary, I met with each of the divisions," said
Thomas. "I saw the rich diversity of the state and wanted to take each of
the cultures and promote awareness. It brings us into the communities,
promotes contacts and helps us understand the issues and concerns."