Month: April 2022

Race to the Sea

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Imagine a colorful fleet of canoes and kayaks gathered at the confluence of the north and south branch in anticipation of the start of a dash down the Raritan River to the sea. Described as a sojourn, dash, race and tour to accommodate all levels of experience, the finish lines for each class can be a different take out along the way. Classes for racers, timed for placement and simply celebration upon reaching any chosen finish line for the touring dashers. Distance or time become the personal feedback for participants who may wish to improve their last year’s performance. In that way the ‘race’ has the elements of developing into a tradition where dad’s and daughters, moms and sons, look forward to next year and maybe in anticipation, focus on improving their health and physical conditioning.

The paddler’s intimacy with the Raritan brings with it a deeper appreciation of the river, which has existed as more of a concept to most people who may only glimpse it at a distance, while passing over a bridge on the way to work. With intimacy comes consideration and concern about all things impacting the river and its watershed.

The possibilities to grow a network of support for the treasure that is the Raritan River, are limited only by imagination. Photographs and art work inspired by the river’s appearance through the seasons could be celebrated by riverside towns, restaurants, schools and galleries to be dispersed far and wide. Like seeds in the wind, the beauty and appreciation of the Raritan may be an inspiration to awaken distant communities to the riverine treasures in their backyard.

One example of a successful effort to market a once polluted river, is the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, held each April, in Maine. At one time salmon and eels returned from the sea via the Penobscot River to the Kenduskeag stream. By the time Thoreau walked he shores of the Kenduskeag in the mid 19th century, tanneries and flour mills blocked and poisoned the stream and continued well into the 1960s. A group of local canoeists came up with the idea for a canoe race to showcase the Kenduskeag and bring attention to its health. Eventually the race expanded to be televised and enjoyed by hundreds of viewers and attendees. The salmon run is making a comeback and even Sports Illustrated found room on its cover to celebrate the longest early season canoe race in New England. I participated in this race for eighteen years and carried the seeds of inspiration back to the Raritan. It is no small coincidence that Henry David Thoreau left indelible footprints along the Raritan River and the Kenduskeag for future generations to follow.

The crowd of streamside supporters bundled dry and warm, cheer on canoeists who await the countdown for the start of the Kenduskeag Stream Race. The countdown to the start of the race, 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.gets the adrenaline flowing. This is a scenario that may someday be played out at the confluence of the Raritan River.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author. Contact

Raritan Boat Build…Living the Dream!

By Sarah Tomasello, LRWP 2021 Boat Build Lead

Throughout 2021, I volunteered with the LRWP to build a wooden boat—a long, narrow rowing shell–destined for use on the Raritan River. During the pandemic, this boat building project was like a good dream. While I spent weekdays working remotely, Saturdays with the boat project meant the smell of cedar, the roar of the power planer, the feeling  of smoothly sanded wood, and being with other people. One year later, I decided to live that dream by pursuing carpentry and wooden boat building through a program called The Carpenter’s Boat Shop, located in mid-coast Maine.

Essay author Sarah Tomasello (right) and Amber Hennes volunteered as paddle build leads for the LRWP’s 2021 boat build project

Like many volunteers working on the rowing shell with the LRWP, I began with minimal experience. Our workshop was a hands-on classroom where other volunteers generously shared their skills. With this support I quickly gained more experience and confidence. Along the way I discovered that I liked nothing more than being in a workshop environment, making things with wood and tools, teaming with others to solve problems, and getting caked in sawdust.

This past February, I drove up to Maine and entered the 4-month long Carpenter’s Boat Shop program, where I am continuing to learn how to build small wooden boats. This program resembles the LRWP boat build project in that it is centered around building a community and sharing skills. At the Boat Shop, I live and work alongside a group of eight other apprentices, sharing chores, cooking meals, going for hikes along the coast, and building a type of row boat called the Monhegan skiff.

Working on a Monhegan skiff at the Carpenter’s Boat Shop in Maine

The Monhegan skiff is an historic vessel in this region that is still used by the residents of nearby Monhegan Island.  Once used primarily by fishermen, the Monhegan skiff was designed to safely navigate the rolling ocean waters around the island and transport fishermen between the shore and their workboats. The skiffs are still purchased for this purpose. The neighbors who frequently visit the Boat Shop campus may have ties to Monhegan Island or have worked as boatbuilders in the region. It is not uncommon to see old wooden boats—restoration projects in progress—sitting in front yards. It is inspiring to be in a place where there is a palpable sense of history and connection with the natural environment. The craft of building small wooden boats weaves these things together. 

Being part of this community in Maine makes me excited about what wooden boats can do for the Raritan region. Building the rowing shell with the LRWP helped me see the history and beauty of the Raritan River, Raritan Bay, and nearby waterways. Bringing a community together to build small, well-crafted boats builds a culture of connection with  local waterways, local history, and between neighbors, hopefully leading to increased stewardship and recreational access to the Raritan.