Millersville Students Kayaking

Susquehanna Stories – Millersville Students Float to Write

Millersville University’s Environmental Advocacy Writing course has taken to the Susquehanna River as a source of inspiration. The students have been tasked with telling stories of the river, focusing on the people, plants, animals, and places that make the Susquehanna a valuable connector for our area. What better way to start that process than by getting into the river itself?

Millersville Students Float the River

Led by Dr. Justin Mando, guided by Shank’s Mare Outfitters and funded by River Stewards, the class floated the river to gain a sense of place that will drive the writing they do on behalf of this magnificent, threatened, and often overlooked American waterway. Their goal is to capture in writing both the aesthetic and cultural value of the Susquehanna along with the threats that face it. Many organizations from the Susquehanna’s headwaters to its mouth in the Chesapeake Bay are excited to hear what flows from our student advocates.

Wrightsville to Fishing Creek

The students set off on a calm evening in early October, taking double kayaks from south of Wrightsville down to Fishing Creek and back in the section of the Susquehanna known as Lake Clarke. Because it is between two dams, this part of the river is much more like a lake than what normally comes to mind when we think of rivers. This lake-like stretch has caused the students to think of how differently they may have to communicate environmental issues to citizens located along the banks of Lake Clarke among lighthouses, seagulls and jetskis than they would in the river’s northern reaches of grass islands, exposed rocks and riffles.

Time and Place

Thinking about this river as writers, contrasting visions really come to life when you’re out there in the middle of it. You can’t help but imagine the native Susquehannock settlements of the distant past and their dugout sycamore canoes juxtaposed with the brightly-colored kayaks we floated. You look to the top of Turkey Hill where a landfill, a processing plant and windmills now have the high ground and then your eyes focus on the mottled white of a swooping osprey. You come ashore and the ground feels different; it’s not just your soggy shoes, it’s the sense of being part of the sweeping flows of time and place that we as individuals can passively float or choose to paddle against.


About Justin Mando

Justin Mando, a Pennsylvania native born in Erie, is an assistant professor of science & technical writing in the Department of English at Millersville University. He moved to Lancaster County in mid-2016 after completing his Ph.D. in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon. Justin’s research and teaching focus on the intersection of environmental issues and public communication. With his wife, Marika, and two daughters, Nella and Sonia, he enjoys exploring the Susquehanna trails. Justin is also an avid angler, targeting smallmouth bass and trout all over Pennsylvania.

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