Once heavily polluted by nearby coal mines and steel mills, the Monongahela River is making a comeback and vying for the title of Pennsylvania’s 2013 River of the Year.
The designation is part of a program sponsored by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers aimed at elevating public awareness of rivers and recognizing important conservation efforts.
Presented annually since 1983, the program also awards a $10,000 grant for community events to the organization that nominated the winning river. Joining the Mon in the running are the Juniata, Kiskiminetas, Lackawanna and Schuylkill rivers and Swatara Creek.
“Individually, each of these waterways showcases unique natural resources and recreational potential,” said DCNR Secretary Richard J. Allan. “Collectively, they demonstrate just how blessed Pennsylvania is with its wealth of rivers and streams.”
This year, the Mon was nominated for the honor by the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp., a Fayette County nonprofit working to revitalize the area by connecting people to the river.
“I think the Monongahela River is one of the greatest assets we have in our region,” said Norman Ryan, BARC treasurer and former mayor of Brownsville. “We have not begun to tap the possibilities of that river.”
For the past several years, BARC has been working with the AmeriCorps VISTA program to create a water trail map of the Mid Mon River to bolster recreational activities, and to fill the gap between existing maps of the Three Rivers and Upper Mon. Ryan said the geographic information has already been collected, and the project is ready for the final design elements needed to help it match the look of the existing maps.
The new map will include icons that show the locations of spots to dock and other highlights, such as restaurants, for each community along the Mid Mon River. Ryan said the organization hopes the maps will encourage tourism and help these historic communities tell their stories.
If the Mon is crowned River of the Year, BARC plans to use the grant to work with the River Town Program, a like-minded project of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, to promote the water trail map through events such as walking and paddling tours and other gatherings in the vein of the Brownsville Community Festival and Mon Ducky Race. Ryan said BARC plans to print 15,000 to 20,000 maps to distribute to the river communities.
Voting is taking place at pawatersheds.org and will end Jan. 18.