Attn: Pennsylvania Paddlers

-- Last Updated: Nov-02-06 11:12 AM EST --

The Yough, the Allegheny, and the Clarion are not the only places to paddle in Western PA. There a lot of smaller rivers in the area that are fun to paddle.

Last week I attended a two-day Trails Symposium sponsored by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Among the goals of the symposium was to develop a vision for Western PA's land AND WATER trail systems.

It was very interesting to note that the State of Pennsylvania recognizes the value of paddle-able waterways and gives them recognition equal to bikeways and hiking trails.

The State already has designated some waterways as ‘water trails’ or "Greenways". Among these are the Clarion River, part of the Yough, parts of the Allegheny River, the Susquehanna River, the Kiski-Conemaugh, part of the Monongehela, and, the Juniata at Raystown.

Pennsylvania recognizes the value of these "Greenways" because of their huge potential for recreation and economic development (read that "Tourism").

PennDOT (Highways) and DCNR (Conservation and Natural Resources) each gave presentations on state and federal funding for trail projects. Their clear message was: if you have a project and justification, there is money available. They'll even help you fill out the forms!

You ask: what does this have to do with us and with paddling??? It potentially has a lot to do with us. It could mean more access points designed for paddle craft; it could mean more campgrounds; it could mean financial assistance in removing brush dams; it could mean decent portages around dams. But, MOST IMPORTANTLY, it means that the land along the waterways can be protected from unsightly development.

Twenty-five years ago the land along Western PA's rivers was unattractive because of industrial infrastructure and/or pollution. The industry is gone; the infrastructure is gone; and the water is remarkably clean. Unfortuneately, it is attractive for developers to cut down the trees, reconfigure the landscape, and construct really ugly buildings … just so that people can live and shop in these areas of natural beauty.

As it gets better for us as paddlers, it also gets better for the people who want to destroy it.

Cyclists and hikers have been successful getting funding for their projects because they have local advocacy groups. These groups define their projects, justify them, get support from the local communities and legislators, and apply for grants from PennDOT, DCNR, and private foundations. They have been very successful!

I know paddlers well enough to know that 'organization' is anathema to them. There is money out there to improve and protect our paddling environment; but, it's available only to organized advocates.

Paddler advocacy groups were conspicuously absent from the symposium. At the meeting there was a man representing a local Lions Club that wants to clean up the Shenango River. There was another man seeking assistance in removing dangerous snags from the Connoquenessing. That was pretty much the extent of organized paddler representation.

Existing local clubs need to develop a capability to identify waterway improvement projects and spearhead efforts to justify and fund them. Additionally, we need to develop some "Friends of the '(name your favorite stream' Waterway" in order to coordinate efforts for protection of the bigger streams and rivers. As paddlers we need to join with the variou watershed organizations.

There will be no second chances! If a good paddling stream is destroyed by hillside and waterside development - we won't get it back!

Could you help answer the following questions:

1. Are there paddling clubs already working on waterway improvement and conservation issues?

2. Are there individuals or groups who have succeeded in garnering government or private funding for stream improvements?

3. Are there paddling organizations, which have allied themselves with watershed associations?

4. Do you as paddlers see the need to address these issues?

Thanks for the post
Please email me the contacts at DCNR and PDOT contacts. Is the PAFBC involved? I have some contact info there and despite negative experience on some folks part have had good and informative response when I have questioned them.

The WPA contingent that frequents Pnet is an independent and sometime surly breed but there are quite a few of us including those from Kinzua Country. I have a intrinsic interest in the topic you post about. There are numerous streams/rivers that need only some public access and remedial campgrounds to become great paddling destinations.

I am very familiar with the Juniata area, mostly the Raystown and Frankstown branches. Also the Yough and Allegheny are “home” waters.

Give me a shout, I’m particularly interested in any further forums or meetings. It will be difficult to make our point without a “chartered” organization…perhaps it is time to form one.

What say everyone in WPA?



Try the clubs also.

– Last Updated: Oct-31-06 6:08 PM EST –

Venture Outdoors and Three Rivers Paddling Club to name a couple off hand. I'm sure there are others to find with a quick search.

Edit: Also here:

try adk or racing
Warren,pa usca nationals were excellent in 05 and heard will be back in 07. Adk is wonderful at organizing- maybe too good at preserving and creating forever wild poverty for carpenters. They might give you help. And the hikers who go from carolana to maine. Racers in ny do a lot of conservation work.

for the update.

The only group I know of (and I am only a temporary WPA resident at the moment) that does advocacy work related to water trails is the Friends of the Waterfront group here in Pittsburgh. They got the lower Allegheny designated as a water trail, and there are a number of put-ins around the city now. I have heard of a couple of shoreline cleanup days.

Still…I’m not quite sure how small craft like canoes and kayaks are supposed to handle the locks/dams. I have read nothing of portages, and the only procedures I’ve read about with regards to actually using the locks require horn blasts to signal the operator.

Venture Outdoors itself is not an advocacy group. They serve as more of a clearing house/events posting for other groups in town, plus they do guided trips and kayak rentals.

VERY important to volunteer!
In northern IL we have several counties who are working together to create trails and preserve greenspace. The FP districts love volunteers. Our club has done downfall clearing and general clean-up and has permission to continue doing so. Any help is welcomed by the FP district and in return, we have nice accesses and parking and parks. They are working on a long term plan to connect the east side of the state to the west side with a trail system. Currently, we can paddle thru at least 4 counties and the bike and hiking trails are extensive.

I encourage you folks in PA to get involved and volunteer. It’s worth it!

“Locking” your paddlecraft
Thanks for your comments.

You want to take your canoe/kayak through the locks? It’s easy and fun. The only thing you must have is a line (rope!!!) that will reach from your boat to the top of the lock wall and back down again. Your throw bag should work. You don’t need a horn; there is a rope hanging down on the end of the shore-side lockwall. When you pull on the rope, it rings a bell and tells the damkeeper you are there (If you want the dam keeper to like you, don’t pull the rope multiple times!).

Venture Outdoors occasionally runs padddle trips through the locks. If you are worried about doing it alone the first time, it’s a good confidence builder to go with them. (Incidentally, the locks don’t empty or fill like a toilet. If you accidentally let go of the security rope, you won’t be spun around and flushed out through a hole in the bottom of the lock.)

You mentioned the Riverlife Task Force. They are paddlers’ best friends! They have improved river access all the way from the Point up to the Yough. They have done more to make the rivers “paddler” appealing than anyone. Hopefully, they will play a role in creating the riverside park that will stretch the entire lenghth of the city.

West Branch Grants
The Lumber Heritage Region of Pennsylvania also has a grant program that would entertain projects along the West Branch of the Susquehanna. The grant round has just begun. More information is available on their website at:

This organization created the West Branch Water Trail and the West Branch Paddlers Map & Guide Book. Their work has been recognized by the ACA.

Paddlers Organization
When I started this I thought there was a need for paddlers to organize around watersheds or favorite river stretches.

That was not realistic for at least two reasons: 1. The number of paddlers who paddle anything but the “well known” waters are very few. and 2. The nature of paddlers who enjoy the wilder and less publicized areas is not conducive to meetings and structure and dealing with bureaucracies.

Consequently, I’m picturing a regional or statewide paddlers umbrella organization that would work with and support existing watershed organizations and also represent paddlers concerns with state and county agencies.

It could be made up a board of directors with representation from whatever canoe/paddling clubs (general interest paddling, not competitive) that can be identified in the region or state. We would have to consider some level of involvement for retail and service businesses because they sponsor and encourage paddling trips. Also, watershed orgs and various agencies might also want to be involved in planning and prioritizing.

As you can see, this can mushroom into something too difficult to manage. Your general comments and advice are appreciated.