Tuesday, August 18, 2009

River Potatoes...

River Potatoes line up to pay dearly for a hot dog and a drink at the Hot Dog Man's island stand near Devil's Tea Table.

River potatoes (AKA tubers to most folks) are the most common recreational users of the Lower Delaware River during the summer. Like a 'couch potato' in front of the TV, river potatoes truly are "one with the river." Basically you soak your butt in the water and paddle with your hands, spinning like a top down the river.

We set off in our canoes on a hot Monday afternoon from the Kingwood access to Bulls Island State Park, through what could be called the "potato patch."

Tubing is not the best way to get down the river for anyone afraid of fish, snakes, snapping turtles, dragonflies or eels. Of course most people don't have a clue, or at least are in denial that such critters exist in the river. That is until I happen by and yell out: 'Look at the size of that water snake!"

Tubing is a time honored activity that was not too long ago limited to those who found their own truck tire innertubes. Some places along the river still sell them (Muellers Store).

It's become big business and on any given summer day when the river is not running too high, the river between Frenchtown and Point Pleasant is filled with river potatoes bobbing like so many brightly colored Lifesavers. Between the two primary livery services there can be thousands of tubers on a hot weekend day.

The masters of the river potato patch are a story unto themselves. The Hot Dog Man and the self-proclaimed King of the River (Bucks County River Country) keep busloads of tubers on the river. They also are former business partners who have been engaged in a low grade war that's has been mostly fought in the local press.

Much could be said about the potential impacts that these businesses have on the river in terms of trash, litter and fecal contamination. That will have to await further research. For sure this topic is not on the radar screen of any environmental agency or river advocacy group, but it should be. Meanwhile, thousands of people get their first look at the river as a river potato and that alone is a good thing. No doubt some river potatoes evolve and buy their own innertube or move up to a kayak.