The season is here and training is underway for many dedicated and selfless volunteers. For the last 35 years, members of a distinct group have traveled to the Upper Delaware River region to ensure the safety of others, while also enjoying the wonders of the river. Members of the National Canoe Safety Patrol, first entered the chilly Delaware River waters a few weeks ago for the first of many sessions of training, that will continue throughout the summer.
     This year marks the 35th year for the enthusiastic volunteers, as the organization started with a few who saw too many emergencies occurring in the river, before the National Park Service designated the Delaware River as a national park. This year, Mary Kay Rhodes, the wife of the late Richard Rhodes, one of the founding members, said the organization is going strong, with the highest number of new members yet. Today, with 25 new members, there are over 100 volunteers that will spend at least four days of their summer patrolling the river. The reason for the growth, Rhodes explained is that the foundation has been laid for the new volunteers, as they join and quickly learn the group's mission. The initial members were involved in canoeing clubs elsewhere, so when they united with the National Safety Team, Rhodes said it has been a, “fantastic relationship,” and today there is an exciting future because of the evolution of the group.
    River etiquette, she said is “extremely important,” because people can enjoy the river by simply standing on the shores. A “pristine area,” Rhodes said the region is “like a paradise” because of the Lackawaxen and Delaware Rivers where there are plenty of animals and flowers. She said river stewardship is important because people are blessed to have such a national treasure, but protecting and appreciating the rivers is essential.
    Having worked side by side with members of NCSP for over three decades, Rhodes said aside from being a family, the volunteers are her personal heros that inspire her because of their continuous work and when an emergency arises, they are ready to tackle it.
    Having partnered with the National Park Service for years, Rhodes said it is a blessing to work together because Educational Specialist Ingrid Peterec, who is like a liaison between the two organizations, help to better NCSP's mission as they work together.
    Every month there are skill drills where the volunteers learn about and practice rescue swimming and other scenarios that could potentially occur. A few weeks ago, when training first began, water temperatures were in the 50 degree range and water levels were high. Every year, Troy Bystrom the marketing director for NCSP said the training builds on different skills that ultimately compliment everything the volunteers work on throughout the season. When on patrol, training is going on whether it is boating skills or how to handle the different eddies in the river. To get acquainted with the various sections of the river, the volunteers are rotated so they do not become too accustomed to one section, even though the river changes with the water levels.
    A never-ending problem, people not wearing properly fitting life vests is detrimental, because all of the people that drowned last year weren't wearing properly fitting life vests. Bystrom said no one has ever drowned on the Delaware River while wearing a properly fitting life vest. Working with the Park Service, he said together the organizations have started a river safety campaign and a public announcement was shown in local theaters last year to inform the public about how significant life vests are. Whether the water is fast or the levels are low,  Bystrom said there are drop-offs that people can't always see, or trying to swimming across is harder than one may think because the “river is alive and constantly growing and moving and changing.”
    Saves occur throughout the summer, whether by helping someone that is stuck on a rock, they may have flipped and more serious instances when people underestimate the river and try to swim across, but learn they cannot handle the currents or they don't realize the depth of the water.
    There have been instances when people were in serious situations and friends then tried to help. That is problematic Bystrom said, because the friends may then be endangering themselves. Every member of NCSP are first aid and CPR certified.
     Working with the Park Service, Bystrom said is such a great opportunity for high school students because of the experience they will have before going to college and the credibility they will have for working with a federal agency is monumental. Bystrom is actually talking with Career Specialist from Wallenpaupack Area High School Colleen Edwards who is also the advisor for the school's Emergency Responders Club to get students involved in the NCSP.
    Peterec said the collaboration between the Park Service and NCSP is critical because when NCSP members are patrolling the river, they are additional eyes that help the Park Service because there are only so many rangers and so the NCSP are, “doing things we cannot do as an organization.” She called the volunteers, “unsung heros,” who are very humble about what they do.
    Today, Rhodes said there is a new focus underway by working with younger people, who she feels are “more disconnected with our natural environment and natural world.” Being called to teach and mentor the new generation of NCSP and park guests, Rhodes said everyone should have a role in sharing the wonders of the river with others. Looking to the future, with new adventures and challenges, Rhodes said she is excited to work with the “fantastic young people,” that are stepping up to the challenge of educating people about river safety. Rhodes considers herself to be “fortunate,” to be a part of the present NCSP and what lies ahead in the future.
    When out in the water, members of NCSP are identifiable because of their National Canoe Safety Patrol uniforms that have a red patch and or a red hat that also has a patch. There may also be decals on their canoes or life jackets.
    Following a day of river patrol, to commemorate the 35th anniversary, NCSP will have a celebration dinner this weekend where countless memories will be shared. In honor of Rhodes's husband, the Richard Rhodes River Rescue Scholarship Fund has been established to help high school students that want to pursue the forest ranger or park service field when they go to college.
     The 20th annual Delaware River Sojourn will occur June 22 through the 28th, where it will start at the Zane Grey Museum in Lackawaxen and conclude in Philadelphia. For anyone that is interested in helping others develop a love for the Delaware River, while also staying safe, the NCSP is always looking for new volunteers. For more information visit or contact Troy  Bystrom at 646-236-3400. If concerned about lack of experience, don't worry because members of NCSP will teach people the trade. People do need their own equipment, but Bystrom said NCSP has equipment for sale at discounted prices.  
     This year's Commodore and long time NCSP member DJ Branch said he loves being a member of NCSP because of the family that is NCSP. Branch said members of NCSP are involved simply because of a passion they have for the river where they can enjoy paddling and nature. Wanting more children and families involved, Branch said participating in NCSP is such a great opportunity for people because they can share and foster a different kind of experience as they work to protect others. When situations could have been bad, Branch said it feels good to have prevented such instances. Of NCSP's 35 years, Branch said it is, “a testament to why we are here; the love of the river and the love of the people.”