Now retired, Robbinsville resident Leona Fluck — one half of the PineyPaddlers “organization” — reflects that throughout her working life, including her early career as a teacher at the former Trenton Technical Institute in the 1960s, she always seemed to be crossing bridges over the Delaware River, into New Jersey.
“I’ve probably crossed bridges from Pennsylvania into New Jersey more than 1,000 times,” she says. “I’d look down at the water, but I never realized I would be down there paddling.”
On the other hand, her husband George Fluck, also retired, grew up in Trenton near the Delaware and Raritan (D&R) Canal and the river, and swam, played, and canoed in the waters as a youth. “We had lots of outdoorsy relatives,” he says. “We had a canoe, which the whole family would use, and we’d often canoe up the D&R Canal to the Delaware River, and then we’d come back on the Delaware.”
Meeting at Trenton Tech — where George was teaching electronics and Leona was teaching data processing — the two probably didn’t realize they would later become the paddling pundits of central New Jersey, creators and stewards of the PineyPaddlers website, www.pineypaddlers.com
Launched in 2002, the Paddler’s website is chockful of helpful information for potential paddlers — both canoeists and kayakers. PineyPaddlers also facilitates paddling, walking and bicycling events, in central New Jersey, and other inspiring natural locations throughout the Garden State.
Although George was always a canoeing enthusiast, Leona was really hooked when, in July of 1994, they took a friend’s recommendation to do a canoe trip sponsored by the Delaware and Raritan Greenway Land Trust on the Trenton-Hamilton Marsh.
The expert environmental and botanical information — and friendship — offered by Rider University emeritus professor of biology Dr. Mary Allessio Leck, a guide on that trip, sealed the deal. “I’d never even been in a canoe, and in fact we couldn’t keep the boat straight and were amazed at all the people who could. We loved it and the next day, went out and bought a canoe,” says Leona.
“That trip on the marsh did it, and since then we’ve led about nine or ten (marsh) trips a year, from March through November, where we also like to bring attention to the preservation of the marsh,” she adds. “Thanks to Dr. Mary Leck and Linda Mead (president and CEO of D&R Greenway Land Trust) we’ve now led some 100 trips on the marsh over the years.”
Among the numerous future outings PineyPaddlers lists on its website, a few might be especially interesting and gratifying to residents of Mercer County and northern Burlington County.
On Labor Day morning, Monday, September 7, all are invited to join the New Jersey Sierra Club and the Princeton University Student Volunteers Council (SVC), to pick up litter and trash during a scenic walk along Lake Mercer, which is part of the Delaware River Watershed. You can choose to walk and clean the park’s many wooded trails, or, bring a kayak or canoe to collect trash on the lake.
Just a few days later, on the morning of Thursday, September 10, the N.J. Sierra Club will again partner with the Princeton University SVC for their Sixth Annual Land and Water Cleanup of the D&R Canal as part of the Sierra Club Water Sentinels Program for the Delaware River Watershed. Participants are invited to walk along the canal to pick up litter or to bring a canoe or kayak to collect trash in the water. Cleanup will take place in the Lawrenceville section of the canal.
For both activities, trash bags will be provided, although participants should bring their own gloves, lunch and water.
The Flucks also want to get the word out about “Paddle and Walk the Abbott Marshlands on World Rivers Day,” Sunday, September 27, starting at noon. Established in 2005, World Rivers Day is a global celebration of the world’s waterways, observed every last Sunday in September. The international event highlights the many values of rivers and strives to increase public awareness while encouraging the improved stewardship of rivers around the world. It also educates about the array of threats rivers in every country face, and promotes the involvement of citizens to ensure the health of rivers in the years ahead.
Dr. Leck and Charlie Fisher will be the guides, and, as a joint endeavor with the Friends of the Abbott Marsh, activities at Mercer County’s Tulpehaking Nature Center are planned to celebrate the Abbott Marshlands in the afternoon.
The four-mile paddle will begin at Bordentown Beach (also a launch site for watercraft), and will take participants through the Abbott Marshlands to Roebling Park. Or, folks can come at 2 p.m. for activities at the Tulpehaking Nature Center, on Westcott Avenue in Hamilton Township.
Lifetime members of the Sierra Club, the Flucks are serious environmentalists and activists, and not just concerning the land and waterways of the Garden State but in Pennsylvania and other states and countries as well. On the homepage of the PineyPaddlers Website are links to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and Clean Water Action New Jersey.
You can also click on a box that reads “Stop Fracking Destruction,” and find a wealth of national news and information, as well as organizations and groups standing up to and raising awareness about this environmental threat.
One area where the Flucks have definitely seen positive change because of their efforts is in the N.J. Pinelands “People have become very much aware of the Pinelands ecosystem and environment, and what they can do to protect it, whether through speaking out at hearings, writing letters, etc.,” Leona says. “We absolutely make a difference. Now, people (who participated in our outings) are raising their children this way, so it’s passing to new generations. Now, the young people can appreciate what they have and how to preserve it.”
A further perusal of the excellent website helps clarify exactly what the two-person organization is, and what its mission is. Under the “About PineyPaddlers” section, we read that “PineyPaddlers is a Sierra Club support group of people that enjoy paddling, hiking, and cycling in New Jersey and the Pine Barrens.”
Then, in the “Frequently Asked PineyPaddler Questions” section, it reads, “We are not a club or formal organization. Most PineyPaddlers are members of one or more canoe and kayaking clubs.”
On the site, there is also an online dictionary of paddling and whitewater terminology, detailed information about weather and atmospheric conditions, and a section that elucidates the Fluck’s numerous certifications and affiliations. These include long-time membership in the Hamilton-Trenton Marsh executive committee and governing membership in the Mohawk Canoe Club. There is also an archive of some 6,000 photos documenting excursions throughout the years.
“We like to clarify that PineyPaddlers is not a club, it’s just us, communicating to the paddling world,” says George. “However, it ended up being one of the most popular paddling information websites there is. We are very well-known on the Internet.”
“The way we got started was because of our dedication to the Sierra Club and the environment,” George says. “After I retired, we decided to spend our time to support the environment and get as many people out on the water, so they could see what we had been seeing for years. We gave free canoeing and kayak training to so many people, because safety on the Delaware River is very important. Self-learning is not terribly effective; it creates a false impression (of safety). We believe in formal training. The worse thing is if someone has a bad experience early on, and then they don’t want to come out again. We want to get as many people as possible into the hiking, biking and paddling activities.”
Leona — after mentioning that the PineyPaddlers’ mantra is “never paddle alone, but with an experienced group” — says, “We do have certain requirements, such as everyone must wear a life vest or personal flotation device, and on the non-tidal section of the Delaware, you must wear a helmet, since there are rocks and boulders there, and if you fall out, you might hurt your head,” she says. “We don’t want to scare people, but we want to be safe, because then we are in a good position to enjoy the trip. If we’re not safe, we — or you — could have a very bad day. It could be lovely or it could be dangerous, and that’s why the training is so important.”
They do not suggest paddling trips when there are high winds or freezing rain in the forecast or if there is the threat of a thunderstorm with lightning. However, the intrepid PineyPaddlers have gone out on the waterways in the rain, as well as in the winter. Cold weather trips are only for the most stalwart and experienced, but can be exceptionally rewarding. “There is nothing as beautiful as a creek that has ice crystals,” George says.
Leona Fluck, 72, was born in Philadelphia and raised in what is now Levittown. Her father owned Certified Welding Services in Bucks County, Pennsylvania; her mother was a life insurance agent for Polish National Alliance in Bucks County. She attended Rider University as a night student, and graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s of science degree. A lifelong learner, Leona then audited a few environmental sciences courses at Rutgers and Princeton. In 2000, she retired from Educational Testing Services, where she had been Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) executive director.
George Fluck’s father was Dr. David Fluck, a physician and Mercer County Medical Examiner. One of the rooms at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen’s Escher Street location was named in honor of Dr. Fluck, a long-time member of TASK’s board, and a dedicated volunteer for many community causes.
Fluck’s mother had been nursing supervisor at McKinley Hospital in Trenton before she left to raise their family. When George, 73, retired some 20 years ago, he was technology vice-president for Standard & Poor’s.
Leona has met many people like herself who come out for a paddle after crossing a bridge or driving along a riverside highway, looking down at kayakers and canoers in the water, and thinking, “I want to try that.”
“I always tell them this was how I got started,” she says. “We’ve had people come from Virginia to join us on a paddle, and one person comes regularly from western Pennsylvania — drives seven hours to get here, in fact. We even had a man from Sweden go out with us. He was here on business, a friend brought him on an outing, and he loved it.”
The Flucks reflect that they couldn’t do it without all the people who have come along with them throughout the years and helped with safety, communications, transportation, and whatnot. “We have a wonderful team of support folks, who love the environment and want to help others,” Leona says. “If we get a new person, we team them up with and experienced person who will coach them. They’ll get introduced around and then the newbie becomes part of the group. And, it’s an activity for all ages. It’s not a clique — everyone is welcome, and everyone is respectful.”
The PineyPaddlers are George and Leona Fluck. To confirm trips and meeting locations, and/or for registration and detailed trip information call: 609-259-3734 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.pineypaddlers.org; click on “George and Leona’s Schedule” for listings of future trips, including:
Mercer Park — Land and Water Cleanup, Monday, September 7, 9 a.m. to noon. Join the Sierra Club and the Princeton University Student Volunteers Council to pick up litter and trash during scenic walk along Lake Mercer and the wooded trails. Or, bring kayak/canoe to collect trash on the lake; life jackets must be worn. Bring lunch and water. Bring gloves; trash bags will be provided.
Delaware and Raritan Canal Land and Water Cleanup, Thursday, September 10, 9 a.m. to noon. The Princeton University SVC and the N.J. Sierra Club partner for their annual land and water cleanup of the D&R Canal. Walk along the canal to pick up litter or bring canoe/kayak to collect trash in the water. Cleanup will take place in the Lawrenceville section of the canal; meet at Cherry Tree Lane. Bring lunch and water. Trash bags will be provided.
Paddle and Walk the Abbott Marshlands on World Rivers Day, Sunday, September 27, noon. Mary Leck and Charlie Fisher will be the guides. Bring lunch and beverage; lunch at Bordentown Beach before starting the four-mile paddle through the Abbott Marshlands to Roebling Park. Rentals are not available. Activities at the Tulpehaking Nature Center, 157 Westcott Avenue, Hamilton Township, 2 p.m. 609-303-0704. Joint endeavor with the Friends of the Abbott Marsh, www.marsh-friends.org/things-to-do-at-the-marsh-2/nature-center.