Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River northeastern Pa., southwestern N.Y. border Visited: July 21, 2006 NPS Site Visited: 316 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? 73 miles of the Delaware River that flows unobstructed from Hancock, N.Y. down to Port Jervis, N.Y.
BEAUTY (7/10) Dense, forested rolling hills line the banks of the gently rippling Delaware River. The remarkably crystalline water beckons canoers, fly-fishermen, tubers and swimmers alike. Crossing the River near Lackawaxen, N.Y. is Brooklyn Bridge designer John Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct Bridge, a one-lane, U-shaped wooden construction with high side walls and little resemblance to any automotive bridges. In fact, Roebling’s bridge was built for canal traffic and once filled with water; a watery crossing over water.
Further up the Delaware is the two-block long town of Narrowsburg. The town has a quaint, upscale charm and more bistros, wine stores and art galleries than any hamlet, population 414, should enjoy.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10) Excepting the Roebling Bridge, all of the Site’s historic attractions have been ravaged by a recent occurrence: the Delaware River flooding of June and July, 2006. The Delaware and Hudson Canal trails and the Zane Grey House are closed. Yes, America’s iconic millionaire playboy author, Zane Grey, lived and wrote his rollicking westerns, including the Mormon-bashing Riders of the Purple Sage, back East, alongside the Delaware.
In July, the first floor of the Zane Grey House was completely underwater. Luckily, Park staff and volunteers rushed all his memorabilia to the house’s top floors just before the water’s came. To many, the Park itself holds culpability for the flooding, which the New York Times estimated did over $1 billion worth of damage. The 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, of which the Upper Delaware is a part, restricts dam building. After three disastrous floods in 21 months, some wonder if the positives of a protective dam would outweigh the loss of breathtaking scenery.
CROWDS (7/10) Echoes of laughter bounced off the Delaware’s banks, emanating from joyful canoes. Their siren song even beckoned us to wade into the water. Gab needed less persuasion than Michael. Visitors flock to the Upper Delaware and the surrounding Pocono Mountains happy to escape their urban (and suburban) jungles.
Getting away from it all back East, however, is a relative term. Our panorama shot of the Delaware from atop the Roebling Bridge shows over twenty canoes, a few sunbathers and two focused fly-fishermen. But compared to the packed Interstate-84, we had the world to ourselves.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5) The Park’s southern terminus, River Mile Marker 258 is located a few miles north of Interstate 84 at Port Jervis, N.Y., Exit 1 in New York or Exit 53 in Pennsylvania. New York Route 97 parallels the River for the Park’s entire 73 miles, from Port Jervis to Hancock. The Zane Grey House and the Roebling Bridge are near Lackawaxen, Pa., at Mile Marker 278. NPS Headquarters is in Narrowsburg, Mile Marker 290.
Canoe put-ins and private campgrounds scatter the River’s banks until Hancock. There are no public campsites, no NPS hiking trails and no traditional Visitor Center. Besides the (closed) Zane Grey House, the only National Park land is the River itself.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5) The Upper Delaware SRR Visitor Center bookstore in Narrowsburg, N.Y. carries a small but focused set of titles covering the following categories: bald eagles (they’ve returned to the area); historic bridges, canals and aqueducts; and the Lenape Indians. What’s missing? Of course, Zane Grey books. We combed the store but found none. Perhaps they are only stocked at the now closed Grey House. Our interest was piqued after reading Riders of the Purple Sage. We want more!
COSTS (2/5) Just looking at the River is free. Canoeing and camping is not free. There are no NPS campgrounds to keep the prices down. Private outfitters charge anywhere from $13 to $17 per person! Most have mandatory multi-day stays and some charge extra for parking. While New Yorkers may expect New York prices we are Pennsylvanians and those rates are ridiculous. Canoe rentals run between $30 and $40 a day, which is not too bad.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5) An SCA volunteer stationed in a small kiosk in the parking lot and boat put-in at Lackawaxen gave us the 411 on the Zane Gray house and tried to make us feel better by saying it was closed for at least the rest of the season. An equally young Ranger eagerly tried to assist us at the Narrowsburg VC, but since there were no NPS campsites nearby and we had already seen the river, we couldn’t think of anything else we wanted to ask or any reasons to linger longer.
TOURS/CLASSES (3/10) Being a Scenic and Recreational River, we don’t fault the Upper Delaware for its lack of educational activities. Having the Zane Gray Museum as part of the NPS area is a bonus. Sadly, with Gray’s belongings safely stashed on the second floor and the door of his house firmly shut, there were no opportunities to learn more about the author on this trip.
FUN (5/10) Wave after wave of hardly working canoers were having lots of fun. The Delaware runs at an easily manageable pace, requires little paddling and few worries. Although we did see one canoe intentionally capsized. Who would capsize a canoe? A boatload of pre-adolescent boys, that’s who; most likely boys from the nearby Ten Mile River Scout Camps, a 12,000-acre facility that must pour hundreds of kids into the Delaware every summer.
Our best chance of seeing bald eagles was around the Roebling Bridge. Alas, vultures were the only large birds in our sights.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10) Admittedly, the boys were having a lot more fun than us. We neither had the desire to canoe aimlessly through the gorgeous scenery nor hole up in a rainy, flood-prone campground for two-plus days with vacationing New Yorkers and Boy Scouts. We imagine the Delaware Water Gap NRA located south of Port Jervis to be more user-friendly.
The Upper Delaware SRR caters towards those with second homes in the area and/or a history of vacationing nearby. For us, the rewards the River offers were not big enough to warrant the long and necessary examination on how to reap them.
Had the Zane Grey Museum been open, however, his House would have been a nice, short detour from the monotonous I-84 slog.
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