What is a River Sojourn?
A River Sojourn is an organized float trip on a waterway with stops for environmental and educational programs, official ceremonies and dedications, community and environmental restoration events, meals, camping, games and fun!
Each sojourn event can be as unique an experience as the stream it paddles on and the individuals participating in it. Floats are usually two to eight days in length. They can have from a few dozen to over 100 participants and take place on water bodies ranging from small streams to mile-wide rivers.
Why Should I Plan a River Sojourn?
|Through paddling in, reading about, or meeting with a river sojourn, the public understands the need for stewardship, restoration, and conservation of your river’s resources. The participants especially develop a bond and sense of stewardship with the river. An annual sojourn can be a tool to recruit and train watershed residents to be watershed stewards.
A sojourn can be an effective tool in:
- Raising awareness about your river, its many values, and the issues affecting it;
- Educating communities about natural and cultural resources;
- Promoting public access to the water;
- Encouraging political commitment to watershed stewardship; and
- Enhancing community involvement in river corridor restoration.
Developing Your Goals and Budget
To get an idea of the expenses and difficulties in planning your river sojourn, imagine that you are planning a wedding. Now multiply the effort (and sometimes money) that goes into planning a wedding by the number of days you plan on holding your sojourn. Now you have a rough idea of what to expect. But just as there are many types of weddings (depending on your budget) there are also many types of river sojourns.
As we stated above, there are many varieties of sojournsfrom a two-day float trip with the board of your organization to an eight-day voyage with an average of over 100 participants each day. Obviously your budget is going to be very different depending on the type of trip you are putting together. Below we have outlined two sojournsboth lasting one week and averaging 50 participants a day. The high-end trip spares no expense for the participants, while the budget sojourn attempts to cut costs.
• Staff salaries and indirect costs (one full-time person for six months) - $25,000
• Shirts (for participants and volunteers) - $500
• Brochure/posters - $500
• Postage - $400
• Camping Fees - $200
• Publicity - $1,000
• Decals (for boats) - $150
• Outfitters - $2,500
• Banners - $300
• Commemorative Booklet - $400
• Shuttle Vans or Bus - $1,000
• Gear Truck - $500
• Food - $5,000
• Toilets - $800
• Photo Supplies - $150
• Misc. Supplies - $300
• Programs during sojourn (music) - $500
• Travel - $1,200
TOTAL EXPENSES: $40,400
• Volunteer staff - $0.00
TOTAL ESTIMATED COST: $5,700
• Shirts for participants and volunteers (donated) - $0
• Brochure/posters - $500
• Postage - $400
• Camping Fees (waived) - $0
• Publicity - $0
• Decals (eliminated) - $0.00
• Outfitters - $2,500
• Banners (eliminated) - $0
• Commemorative Booklet (eliminated) - $0
• Shuttle Vans or Bus (donated) - $
• Gear Truck (donated) - $0
• Food (some donated) - $2,000
• Toilets (donated) - $0
• Photo Supplies - $0
• Misc. Supplies - $300
• Programs during sojourn (donated) - $0
• Travel - $0
The major ways of financing a river sojourn are through charging participants a fee for each day that they are on the river and through seeking out sponsors to either donate goods and services or to provide a cash contribution to the voyage. The vast majority of sojourns are paid for using some combination of the two methods. If possible, try to have some scholarship or reduced fee option so that you are able to offer the sojourn experience to all audiences, not just those that can afford it.
You may be putting on a sojourn as a retreat for your board and staff, or as a public outreach an education event open to all the public. You may want to travel a specific portion of your river or streamone with particularly high scenic value, or you may want to travel the river’s length to get to know the whole water body. During the voyage you may be interested in training participants in methods of protecting water quality, you may be trying to identify areas to target for restoration work, or you might just be out on the river for fun. Whatever the case, you will want to write out your specific goals and let them guide your work plan.
Some example goals:
- Raise the awareness of participants, elected officials and the general public on issues impacting your river or stream;
- Educate a target audience (teachers/students/volunteers) on simple activities that they can do to help protect and restore the water body;
- Create a sense of pride and ownership in the river though a fun-filled voyage;
- Raise money for river restoration
Keep in mind that your goals and your audience will certainly affect the cost and effort that go into planning the voyage.
Creating a Sojourn Timeline
The amount of time planning a sojourn varies greatly depending on the goals you have set. For example, planning for a weeklong sojourn with a large number of participants should begin about a year before the sojourn takes place. On the other hand, a two-day trip for a group of twenty may only take about a week to plan. Below is a sample of the steps that go into planning a generic sojourn float trip. Some of the steps may be unnecessary or skipped depending on your particular needs.
- Determine the purpose and goals of your sojourn;
- Determine the general trip route;
- Bid out and select an outfitter/guide service for the trip;
- Develop a planning team based on your trip route and goals;
- Develop a sojourn budget;
- Promote and advertise the sojourn;
- Visit the planned route to make sure of river access, check for impediments to travel, assure eating and camping locations;
- Plan the daily programs;
- Seek out trip sponsors;
- Register participants;
- Purchase needed supplies and services;
- Host sojourn event;
- Send out thank you letters;
- Read sojourn evaluations and evaluate sojourn with planning committee;
- Create and distribute a sojourn scrapbook, website, CD-ROM, or other item to preserve and distribute the trip’s memories for all participants;
- Begin planning for next year’s event!
It should be noted that several of these steps must be taken simultaneously. It is crucial to have an efficient and dedicated planning team that is in constant communication to make sure the work gets done!
Choosing a Planning Team
|Once it is determined that a stream reach can support a sojourn, it is important to form a core planning team. The core planning team is the muscle and motivation of a successful program. Many sojourn planners find it useful to approach members of the communities that are located along the stream corridor (within 5-10 miles along the entire waterway) to involve them in the planning process as well. Involvement gives people a sense of “ownership” for the event, providing potential sponsorship opportunities, and it may help ease access issues.
The core planning team should be made up of dedicated people who will volunteer their time and expertise to help plan daily program activities, meals, campsites, shuttles and other logistics. There should be enough people on the team to share the workload, yet few enough to allow for fluid communication and decision-making. In general, a team of 5-10 people with the following types of affiliations is suggested.
- Local outfitters/river guides;
- Environmental groups and agencies;
- Government offices (Mayor’s Office, Department of the Environment, Parks and Planning);
- Canoe and trail clubs and other recreation and sporting clubs (fishermen);
- Tourism bureaus;
- Business groups;
- Civic clubs
In addition to the core team, it may be useful to appoint sub-teams to handle more detailed planning of, for example, safety, programs and entertainment, food, and event promotion.
Since many sojourn planners will be volunteering on a part-time basis, opportunities for communicating can be difficult. Scheduling and holding regular meetings may be helpful. Suggested issues for discussion and decision are in Appendix B.
- Team contact information;
- Team leadership and functional structure (including designating a secretary);
- Sojourn theme and Sub-teams;
- Meeting schedule;
- Identification of stream segments;
- Put-in and take-out access;
- Lunch, bathroom, program stops;
- Camping areas;
- Funding and promotion;
- Safety and liability issues;
- Progress of planning
Planning Task List
During the course of the planning year, the core planning team and sub-teams will need to address the following tasks. (See Appendices A and C)
- Permissions access permission and licenses may be required. In some jurisdictions, this includes: boat registration or launch permits; fishing licenses; and group activity event registration. Similarly, if public access to the stream is unavailable, private landowners should be contacted as early in the process as possible. It may be helpful to invite them to participate in the sojourn planning process and as paddlers. Above all, respect the privacy and rights of property owners because one bad experience can tarnish the image of the entire sojourn program and precipitate serious conflicts.
- Theme Many sojourn organizers like to designate a focus for the event (e.g., historical, geological, cultural, environmental). You may choose to relate the theme to the accomplishments or highlights of the local area and present time.
- Logistics Consider designating Day Planners who will handle logistics for each individual day’s activities, programs, meals, time on the river, and campsites. Consider also assigning a leader for each stream segment. The leader will be responsible for the landing site each day, making sure the access site is clear, securing the campsite, helping with the food and activities, and greeting sojourners at the take-out. Day Planners should know the ins and outs of their waterway section including potential educational and activity sites and places that may pose safety problems in adverse water conditions. (See Appendices E, F & G for a sample Campsite Planning Table and Sojourn Day Planning Forms)
- Funding Develop a preliminary budget by making a list of activities and expenses, and potential revenues (e.g., registration fees, grants, sponsorships, donations).
- Transportation Travel logistics to and from the origin and final landing, as well as intermediate stops need to be planned. Because people are generally allowed to sign up for part or all of a sojourn, the organizers need to make arrangements for some participants to get back to their vehicle or pick-up location each day.
- Publicity Prepare a listing of municipalities, legislators, mayors, county officials, reporters and others for jurisdictions along the sojourn route. You may wish to send them letters announcing the sojourn and asking for their endorsement or involvement.
Numerous logistical and regulatory concerns need to be addressed during the planning process. Many of these issues will be specific to place, people, and events. A number of issues will be applicable to all sojourn groups.
Many of the arranged camping, put-in and take-out locations will have sanitary facilities available if they are maintained parks or campgrounds. Organizers should confirm whether these facilities will be available to the sojourn participants. If they are not, or if the location is without permanent facilities, a portable toilet rental is the other option. The number of users and the amount of time at the location will determine the number of portable toilets required. The vendor can help determine this number, but a general guideline is two units per 50 people.
Since the sojourn will contain starting, ending and intermediate points over the course of several days, ground transportation must be thoroughly planned. A contracted school or charter bus may be needed to provide shuttle service. It is important to make sure that pick-up and drop-off points will be accessible for a bus. If contracting with a bus service, be sure to ask for and receive proof of carrier liability insurance.
Food & Catering
Most sojourns arrange for meal catering with contractors and find it important to offer options for alternative diets such as vegetarian, diabetic, and low-fat. Some other concerns are:
- The amount of food to provide. Having too little food available can (and has) become a point of contention (an oversight may have been providing for volunteers, guests, drivers and performers/speakers, in addition to seconds and dessert after a long day on the water). On the other hand, conservation values should be emphasized in a sojourn and waste should be minimized. The caterer’s experience with activity-based events may affect their ability to predict demand.
- Minimizing packaging waste. If possible, recycle or provide dishwashing stations. (See Appendix D for further sustainable sojourn tips)
- Assuring that plenty of water is available. Each person should drink at least one to two liters of water per day.
A very important aspect of sojourns is education. A true sojourn is not just a floating vacation; it is a watershed awareness journey. Sojourns have had a significant effect on participants as well as residents of waterfront communities.
Program Planning Guidelines
Planning team members may have excellent ideas for environmental and educational activities on the sojourn. It may be useful to brainstorm and make a master list of these ideas.
- Try to involve communities along the river as much as possible. They may be more eager to help with meals and programs if they can recognize an opportunity to gain positive attention.
- Ask for donations of goods and services especially from local businesses. You may be surprised! If you are receiving grant funds for the event, donations of this kind are perfect for matching funds and show community involvement. Be sure to get a receipt or invoice for all goods and services, whether they are donated or not.
- View the sojourn as an opportunity to raise awareness about the watershed, surrounding communities, and specific issues of the region (e.g., abandoned mine drainage, river access, newly designed water trails, land use).
- Beware of potential effects on the community. Dozens of sojourners invading a town can be a double-edged sword; they can stress resources, yet can be good for the local economy. In order to enhance the acceptance of the sojourn, consider incorporating public service, such as a litter clean up, into the event. These events are valuable learning activities for participants and community builders for riverside residents.
- Programming and entertainment are important elements of some sojourns. They may also demand logistical support, such as shelter, electricity, projector screens, amplification, etc. It is helpful to keep programming in mind when scouting the stream.
- It is important to keep the educational programs simple and entertaining; some participants may have limited knowledge of ecological issues.
- Consider alternative programming for younger children.
- A common, yet avoidable mistake is to over schedule the daily programs. Since paddlers are exerting themselves on the water, more sedentary programming in the evenings, or some free time may be appreciated.
- Providing sojourners with a simple evaluation form (see Appendix H) is important not only for the continuous improvement of the event, but also for repeat business. Sojourners who show enough interest to give feedback are likely to return the next year.
Safety and Risk Management
The goals of a sojourn may be educating and raising the awareness of participants while having a good time, however, safety should be the organizers’ first priority. Not all risk can be completely avoided in an outdoor environment, however, risk should be minimized through anticipation and prevention.
Leadership and Safety Personnel
The first aspect of prevention is the presence of able leadership and safety personnel. A safety sub-team should be formed to determine and implement safety guidelines and policies. The sub-team may wish to appoint a chief safety officer from among their ranks who will be responsible for implementation of the safety guidelines leading up to and during the day of the event.
Recruit professional paddlers, such as local guides or recreational outfitters, and medical professionals, if possible. You may need to contract with these individuals if they are unable or unwilling to donate their services. Volunteer groups such as local canoe and paddling organizations may be good resources as well. At a minimum, safety personnel should be trained in CPR and First Aid. Boat safety and water rescue training is also a good idea.
Since paddling can be considered an inherently dangerous activity, sojourn organizers must give due consideration to liability issues. Insurance coverage is essential. The American Canoe Association (ACA) has event sanctioning guidelines and may be able to provide useful assistance for on the water activities. County Extension Offices may be able to supply a listing of insurance companies that afford group coverage on an annual event basis. Also check if additional coverage is needed for landowners and special activities and that all organizing committee partners are insured. If using an outfitter with existing coverage, make sure to purchase any additional coverage that is not available under the outfitter’s policy
River Sojourns share many risks with outdoor travel and recreation in general, but also have many risks related specifically to water and the local environment. Sojourn organizers should be aware of risks associated with their specific waterway and daily activities as well.
- Dehydration, or excessive loss of body water, is a major concern for participants of physical activity in outdoor environments. Opportunities and reminders to fill water bottles and continually hydrate should be components of every trip.
- Hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, can surprise inexperienced paddlers. Many participants only associate it with winter and snowy conditions, but it can strike even during the spring, fall and summer months especially if windy and wet conditions present themselves. Warn participants to dress appropriately, and be aware if rain and cooler temperatures prevail.
- Environmental Hazards are many and varied. Safety personnel should be aware of potential hazards such as poisonous plants, snakes, and insects, poor water quality, quickly changing weather patterns and lightning.
Participants should be reminded of their responsibility to disclose their medical and personal needs to ensure proper care during an emergency, and to follow proper safety procedures during the sojourn. Cooperation and teamwork should be stressed as a working ideal during all aspects of the sojourn.
Participant Responsibilities and Contributions
Sojourners are more than just tourists. They should be regularly informed as to the sojourn logistics, especially changes in itinerary that may affect their decision to participate and conform to the group agenda. Participants can be viewed as resources in risk management situations as well.
Site Specific Hazards should be identified through scouting trips for the river stretches being traveled. Examples include narrow stretches that can cause grounding of craft, undercut banks that may lead to fresh strainers (trees or other debris which may trap people underwater), low head dams, and seasonal water levels that may present unsafe conditions. Visit http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/rt for United States Geologic Service Real Time stream flow data.
Participant Wellness can easily be overlooked, but should be a constant concern of leaders and safety personnel. Unhappy paddlers, wet and muddy campsite conditions, or problematic social interactions with non-sojourners on and offshore, are examples of concerns that may lead to safety compromises. In addition, adequate opportunity should be given to make safety personnel aware of individual health conditions that warrant special consideration (e.g., diabetes, pregnancy, attention disorders, etc.)
Risk Management Plan
It is strongly suggested that the safety sub-team and safety personnel develop a written risk management plan that is easily available to everyone on the sojourn in case of emergency. All sojourn staff, volunteers, and safety personnel should have a copy of the risk management plan. In addition, copies of the plan should be located within each sojourn first-aid kit and each sojourn support vehicle. All sojourn participants should be informed about the key components of the plan, in addition to its location during each morning’s safety talk. Sojourn organizers may also contact nearby safety personnel such as volunteer fire and ambulance companies indicated on the risk management plan and provide them with copies of the risk management plan and itineraries of the sojourn.
A sample sojourn risk management plan form is provided in Appendix I. The plan should cover identification of potential hazards, safety personnel, emergency procedures, communications tools, route with map to nearest hospitals, at a minimum. Safety personnel should determine “911” availability, and test both phone numbers and cell phone service areas as well as emergency equipment. They should also drive the routes to each medical facility to familiarize themselves with the locations prior to the event.
Additional General Safety Guidelines
Although not comprehensive, the following guidelines have been successfully implemented by sojourn organizers and are recommended. Sojourn organizers and safety personnel should consider implementing them.
1) The on-water safety crew should be comprised of a Scout boat, a Lead boat, a Safety boat for at least every 10 canoes/kayaks, and a Sweep boat.
- The Scout has the responsibility to select passages and watch for obstacles. He or she can move freely without the entire group following;
- The Lead is the second boat. The Lead paddler is responsible for observing and taking direction from the Scout and maintaining the pace of the trip. The participants are to follow and not pass the Lead boat;
- The Safety boats should space themselves evenly throughout the participants; and
- The Sweep boat is the last boat. Its operator ensures that no one falls behind.
2) All sojourn participants should be required to wear Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices (PDFs) when they are on the water.
3) Sojourn policies and suggested equipment lists (See Appendix J) should be sent to sojourners in their initial information packet. Sojourn safety rules should be included in confirmation packets. Reserve the right to expel any participant who fails to obey rules.
4) Two sets of daily plan sheets should be provided to sojourners. One set should be mailed in advance in order to allow family and friends to track the sojourn’s daily progress. The second set should be given to sojourners when they check in on-site. Sojourners should be encouraged to read the daily plan at the beginning of each day on the water and should be given an opportunity to communicate with family and friends in the event that a change in plans calls for a change in their coordination.
5) Consider requiring that every sojourner sign a waiver of claims and release of liability, including a medical release and photo waiver. Appendix K contains an example, but organizers should obtain legal advice to make sure they have undertaken precautions that offer them protection.
6) At least two water stops/bathroom breaks should be scheduled every day, in addition to lunch, dependent upon the weather and activities scheduled. Offer water and sports drinks containing electrolytes to all paddlers.
7) The safety boats should be readily visible to the participants and to each other. Orange safety vests, hats, or other markers can be used for this purpose. Bicycle flags are sometimes used on wide rivers where over hanging branches do not present obstacles.
8) It is important to make morning safety briefings mandatory for all sojourn participants. (See Appendix L)
9) Landing Captains or other safety personnel should inspect landing sites daily to make sure they are safe and free from hazards.
10) Landing Captains or other safety personnel should also make sure that each participant who started the day, successfully and safely exits the waterway at the end of the day.
Promotion and outreach is an important element of most sojourns. In addition to attracting participants, effective promotion can help draw donors and political support. Some useful tips for promoting a sojourn follow.
Target Your Audience
- Decide on a target audience. Sojourns sometimes depend on core constituents such as school children, scouts, and community organizations; and others simply aim for broad participation by the general public.
- One effective targeting technique is to ask each team member to submit a mailing list of people or groups they think would be interested in participating and merge the lists for a single mailing or divide them for more targeted mailings.
- Assign one or two planning committee members to develop press releases and to contact local news media and publications. If there is someone on the committee who has experience in this area, ask him/her to volunteer to handle the media planning. (See Appendix N)
- Make initial contact with the local and regional press approximately two months before the event.
- Develop press releases early so they can be thoroughly proofread. Send them out three weeks before the event.
- Ask a volunteer to take pictures during the sojourn and use them in future promotional materials. Also provide them to reporters in conjunction with press releases.
- Make sure to contact any local environmental reporters directly, and consider providing complimentary registration for the event. Point out potential human-interest stories in order to attract coverage. Always provide a good paddling partner for the media who can answer questions and provide them a safe trip.
- Provide web or other access to photographs of the sojourn for reporters’ use. Have all sojourn participants sign a photo release, and consider assigning one of the organizers the task of capturing the event on film.
The Sojourn Brochure
A brochure or fact sheet about the event is a useful communication tool. It should cover the following information (See Appendix P for an example).
- Name and description of event (dates, length, stops, programs, etc.);
- Fees (what is included and not included);
- Instructions needed (policies, what to bring, deadlines, contact information for organizers, directions to daily launch and camping sites);
- Local retail boat rental information;
- Registration form.
- Photos of the Sojourn!
Costs relating to programming, educational events, meals, campsites, and other logistical support are prime targets for sponsorships and donations. Appendix Q contains a sample sponsorship letter that can be used to make initial contact. This should be done at least three months prior to the start of the sojourn, and preferably as much as nine months ahead of time. Always follow up with phone calls and consider approaching a number of businesses. Indicate the benefits of the sojourn to the waterway and the surrounding communities. Benchmarking can serve as a useful marketing tool for gaining sponsorships therefore, it is important to track and report measurable statistics.
Some Examples of Sojourn Marketing:
Some Examples of Measurable Outcomes:
- Mail “save-the-date” postcards and brochures to past sojourners and others requesting information;
- Take brochures to local venues such as gyms, sporting goods stores, outdoor/sportsman’s clubs libraries, schools and bookstores;
- Give a presentation at the local canoe club;
- Ask local canoe clubs/outdoor/environmental clubs to list the sojourn in their newsletters;
- Send Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) and news releases to news/radio stations and newspapers;
- Advertise in local newspapers and magazines;
- Invite local media representatives and government officials along for a complimentary sojourn day, and to present official proclamations (See Appendix O);
- Sponsor a contest at a local festival or trade show and award the winner a free day on the sojourn.
- Number of people attending the sojourn;
- Increase in the number of visitors, as measured by the tourism bureaus;
- Elected local officials and state representatives involving sojourn leaders in their watershed-related decisions;
- Legislators attending the sojourns;
- Local, county and state officials endorsing sojourn goals with proclamations and written commitments;
- Increase in the number and geographical scope of media coverage;
- Increase in the number of sponsors and donors;
- Increase in river access in response to the demand demonstrated by the sojourn;
- Pro-environmental behavior change measured through evaluations.
Some Examples of Sponsor Benefits:
- The sponsor’s name and/or logo on all printed materials such as brochures (# of copies);
- The sponsor’s name and/or logo on sojourn T-shirts (# of shirts) or other promotional items;
- The sponsor’s name mentioned in paid advertisements, public service announcements and media releases;
- Complimentary registrations for officials, board members and designated guests;
- The sponsor’s name mentioned as a sponsor each day during the morning orientation and welcoming address;
- The sponsor’s placement of informational materials and promotional gift items in a “goodie bag” to be distributed to each participant.
|Source: POWR The River Sojourn Organizer’s Guide: Pennsylvania’s Experience, An Introductory Manual to Organizing a Sojourn Event on Your Waterway (12.8 MB PDF file)