Sojourners make a big splash

Mary Ann Thomas
| Sunday, May 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The StrongLand Chamber of Commerce broke its record for the most paddlers ever for its 16th Annual Alle-Kiski-Connie Sojourn, a three-day water journey of about 40 miles down the Conemaugh and Kiski rivers and other local waterways.

A fourth day is reserved for a safety and practice paddling outing.

This year's trip drew 63 participants from throughout the northeastern United States including New York, Ohio and Connecticut.

“This is amazing — the organization, the volunteers — and I've been on many sojourns,” said Helena Garan, 71, of Binghamton, N.Y.

“It is beautiful here,” she said as she beached her kayak from the emerald-green waters of the Kiski Saturday afternoon at the kayak/canoe boat launch at Roaring Run trail in Kiski Township.

“And thank Pennsylvania for the beautiful weather,” she said as the paddlers enjoyed blue skies, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-80s.

But you don't have to be from another state to appreciate the sojourn.

Barbara Raschiatore, 68, of Vandergrift, who is in her sixth year of paddling the event, said, “I love being outdoors and on the water. You can see how everything is cleaner. You can see fish and sometimes eagles, ospreys and great-blue herons.”

Raschiatore brings her sister, Michelle Buchlitener, 59, of Allegheny Township, along on the sojourn for some “sister time.”

Buchlitener added, “They always have good programs scheduled in between time on the river.”

The Alle-Kiski-Connie Sojourn is one of only nine river sojourns in the state supported by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

And of those state-supported paddling events, it is the only sojourn sponsored by a chamber of commerce. The others are presented by nature conservancies and other environmental groups, according to Allan Walzak, retired executive director of the StrongLand Chamber of Commerce.

Walzak and his wife, Gloria, of East Brady, are coordinators of the sojourn.

Walzak created the event to showcase the beauty of the Kiski River along with the history and culture of the Alle-Kiski Valley.

“It's been wonderful watching it grow,” he said, noting that the number of participants has doubled since he started it 16 years ago.

“The sojourn promotes who we are and what we do,” Walzak said.

Paddlers don't spend all of their time on the river, but visit local museums and historic places.

This year, the Saltsburg Herbal Society hosted the group at the Saltsburg museum. Paddlers also were treated to a trip to Avonmore and Apollo to visit the Women's Christian Temperance Union building on North Second Street, Drake's log cabin and the Heritage House, formerly the Chambers Hotel.

The sojourn kicked off Thursday in Crooked Creek State Park, which is base camp for the paddlers throughout the four-day event. Friday and Saturday, the group floated down the Connemaugh to Saltsburg and from Saltsburg to Avonmore, then Avonmore to Apollo.

Today, the last day of the sojourn, the paddlers will explore Mahoning Creek and the Allegheny River north of Templeton.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or

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