CHILLIN' WIT' ... Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper: She imagines a river unabused

Van Rossum at home Sunday. DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Van Rossum at home Sunday. DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: August 14, 2012

Chillin' Wit' is a regular feature of the Daily News spotlighting a name in the news away from the job.

It's HER DAY off, so Maya van Rossum is relaxing with her family in the back yard of their Bryn Mawr home.

John Lennon music is playing on outdoor speakers, well-fed cats are eyeing the butterflies, and then there's van Rossum digging into a pile of wood chips with a pitchfork and hauling the load up a steep driveway with a wheelbarrow. She's sweaty, she's dirty, and yes, for her this is a completely relaxing Sunday.

Van Rossum, 46, has been the Delaware Riverkeeper, the head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, since 1996. The nonprofit group works to protect the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi, a river that made Philadelphia the city that it is. The Delaware is at least 10 miles from her home, but Darby Creek is just down the street.

"It all winds up in the Delaware," she says, taking a seat in a hilly yard covered with native plants. "It's all connected."

Van Rossum's biggest concern for the Delaware is how politics, special interests and corporations come together to both use and, in her eyes, abuse the river. For years, she's fought the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to deepen the Delaware's shipping channel. Supporters said it would save and create jobs, but van Rossum, who is also a lawyer, says the project would have little impact on the port's business while threatening critical wildlife.

"We lost our battle in court, but I'm not going to lay down and take it," she says.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is also critical of natural-gas fracking in rural Pennsylvania and its possible effects on waterways throughout the state. Again, it's mostly all connected, she says, and sometimes you drink it.

"It's all about drilling and all about making money," she says. "They say it creates jobs, but it's the wrong kind of job."

While she's talking, her young son, Vim, is handing her seed pods from a baptisia plant in the yard. They're going to plant them later at their cabin in rural Columbia County. That's far from the Delaware, but the big, murky river's always running through her mind.

"I'm always thinking about protecting the river," she says, the seeds piling up in her hands. "I could never do anything else."

— Jason Nark

Chillin' Wit' is a regular feature of the Daily News spotlighting a name in the news away from the job.

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