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On hot summer days, it's always a pleasure to get in, on, or near a body of water. Add a picnic lunch, good weather and pleasant company and you're as near to heaven as anyone can get, or so I think, anyhow. For residents of big cities, it's often hard to find a place to go, but if you live within 100 miles of the Delaware Water Gap, there's no question about where to find fresh water pleasures. For nearly 150 years, The Gap has been a prime source of outdoor entertainment for people in the urban areas surrounding it, including New York City, Philadelphia (both metropolitan areas only a 90-minute drive away) and the like. A gap, by the way, is another word for pass, or notch, or gorge, or chasm. It's a mile wide and about 1,200 feet deep, all this in the heart of the Pocono Mountains.

Running along the beautiful Delaware River for about 40 miles, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (est. 1965) consists of 67,000 acres in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, mostly covered with trees and replete with wildlife. Ten percent of the nation's population gets its water supply from the Delaware watershed -- the Middle Delaware said to be one of the cleanest rivers in the country. In addition to all the healthy activities outside, you can enjoy cozy little villages, the homes of historic figures, and a multitude of shopping opportunities centered around arts and crafts. There are about 200 miles of scenic roadways here, and about 200 structures from the valley's colonial or more recent past. Historic sites include the Egypt Mills, the maybe mythical Dutch Mines, sites of the French & Indian War, the Old Mine Road, and Grey Towers (home of "western" novelist Zane Grey. There's also a village named Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania, and the Appalachian Trail goes right through it.

The sports-related things to do are almost endless, ranging from swimming to hiking, canoeing and rock climbing to biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing to tubing, fishing (think shad run in spring) and kayaking to camping. There are even 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail within the park, not to mention another hundred miles of trails along various streams, ridges and mountains. Canoe liveries (which also rent rafts, tubes and kayaks) are available at the south end of the Gap near I-80 at Chamberlain Canoes and at the north end near I-84 at Dingmans Campground and five other spots, as well as in New Jersey. If you like to swim, note that most water accidents occur when people try to swim across the river (definitely not recommended for anyone at any time), or without lifejackets, or when drunk. The water is about 55 feet deep in places. Finally, there are boating access points every eight to ten miles along the river in the Gap.

Events

The annual Delaware River Sojourn will be held this year the week of June 24. It celebrates the river and combines canoeing, camping and educational programs, with a canoe flotilla scheduled to pass through this park on June 26 and 27, getting out of the water at Shawnee .The Delaware is the largest undammed river east of the Mississippi, officials say. The theme of the Sojourn this year is Native American Culture.

Millbrook Village (a recreation of a late 19th century rural community), near the Gap, has an Apple Festival in September and a pumpkin-related fest in October. Check it out at tel. 908/841-9531 or at www.millbrooknj.com.

New for 2007

On Memorial Day weekend, a new visitor center building will open at the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center (NJ), and will remain open through September 3 from 9am-5pm, five days a week (closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays except for Wednesday, July 4, 2007).

Urban Delights in Rural Settings

Unlike many national parks, the Gap is dotted with small towns and villages where citified comforts can be had, from grocery stores and delis to shopping and restaurants. Route 209 (PA) runs through most of the park, both the Gap and the highway stretching out in a north-south direction, with Port Jervis at the northern end, Stroudsburg the southern. Within the park's boundaries, in fact, are two restaurants. The Cliff Park Inn, at Milford Cliffs in Pennsylvania, is one, the other being the Walpack Inn, a rustic private spot on the New Jersey side. Nearby towns, such as Stroudsburg (and East Stroudsburg) in Pennsylvania have a fine selection of places, as do Milford (also in PA) and Blairstown in New Jersey. To buy food, check out some of the General Stores in and near the park. At Dingmans Campground Store (tel. 570/828-1551; www.dingmanscampground.com), within the park, you can get everything from camping supplies to a limited selection of groceries. Just outside the park, consider the Shawnee General Store, on River Road, Shawnee-on-Delaware, PA. There's a deli counter here, too, and it's open for breakfast.

If you're looking for antiques or arts and crafts items, check out the Peters Valley Craft Education Center (tel. 973/948-5202), at the corner of Old Mine Road and Kuhn Road in Layton, New Jersey. This is a former village, now a complex of studios and residences for craft artists. The Gallery and Store offer gifts and a free art display.

Entrance Fees

There are no entrance fees to the Gap, but some special uses require reservations and special use permits, and some of these uses also require fees. The money you used to pay in Recreation Use Fees will be called Expanded Amenity Fees from now on, for some unfathomable reason. There are two visitor centers in the Gap, one at Kittatinny Point in New Jersey, the other at Dingmans Falls in Pennsylvania. The former visitors center at Bushkill (PA) is now used for staff training and public lectures and meetings only.

Visitor Numbers

About three million visitors use the park annually, according to the New Jersey Great Northwest Skylands people.

Additional Online Resources

Among the websites I like about the Gap, you might want to consider the following:

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