kayaker on the river near coal barges in Allegheny County
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The Allegheny County River Dialogue: Water Trails

On the following pages you will see some practical and some fanciful ideas about our rivers. This report provides documentation of “River Dialogue” events; the ideas and concepts that emerged in discussions between citizens, experts, planners, and public officials. These first steps might provide the seeds that mature into a regional water trail. The next step will be for citizens to work (criticizing, clarifying, and developing these concepts] with local environmental organizations, communities, and decision makers who have taken an interest in this process. Then, if funding is available, design teams can be assembled to create plans that help establish recreational use as a major element of our regional rivers.

What is a Water Trail?

\Water trails are similar to bike trails; they provide access to places of interest, communities, and natural places. They are also open to all types of users. Water trails are used by boat owners, nature enthusiasts, weekend recreationalists, as well as tourists. A typical water trail might include small-boat launches, shore access, overnight campsites, boat storage, and interpretive signage highlighting significant historical, geological, and environmental information. Additional amenities often featured on and which benefit from a water trail include parks, restaurants, and shops located within adjacent communities.

OUR Rivers!

Historically, rivers were the highways of our early explorers, connecting important sites by clear, unobstructed routes. In our recent history, the rivers were chiefly valued as avenues for commerce and industry and sinks for industrial and municipal wastes. Today, overcrowded roads and renewed interest in recreation are compelling people to rediscover their rivers and streams. Water quality is improving. Recreational use and its attendant economy are showing signs of vitality. Despite all of this, industrial river use still has powerful advocacy through institutions like the Port of Pittsburgh Commission. Under its current director, James McCarville, the Port of Pittsburgh still focuses upon raw material transport and industrial development. One of their major projects was to help instigate the redesign and construction of the dams on the Monongahela river, creating a 32 mile open water pool from Braddock PA to North Charleroi PA. While the primary goal was to stabilize industry and retain existing levels of port activity, the recreational value of the largest open water pool in Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland, and Fayette Counties is incredibly significant. The future will tell us if this bold and expensive ($750 Million) project stabilizes the industrial economy, simultaneously creating the most significant river recreational opportunity in Western Pennsylvania. River transport is significantly cheaper than railroad or truck transportation, but, to date, the goods transported are primarily minerals, petroleum, and chemicals, all in bulk form. Of course, river recreation and its range of economic interests do not (as of yet) have the advocacy or attention of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission. So, it’s up to you, the user, to speak your mind about your rivers! Maybe one day the Port of Pittsburgh Commission will have a “River Recreation” link on their website alongside the existing links to Transportation, Industrial Development, and Smart Barges. Smarter, cleaner, and greener river use is in our future!

Your Rivers? YES! The rivers and their underlying land is held in a “public trust.” Rivers cannot be bought, sold, or developed unless it promotes a public purpose. We have a right to use the surface of our waterways; we also have a right to access those waterways (and oh, by the way, we have a right to clean water but that is yet another story). What will the future hold? What will our rivers look like in thirty years? How will we be using them? In a democratic society, the future evolves out of our collective desires and the forces of the market economy. Kayaking, motor boating, fishing and other water sports are on the rise. Water quality is improving. Fish species, wildlife, and forest growth that were once believed lost from the area for good are returning. Man acts and nature reacts, and always resilient, nature recovers over time. We have some decisions to make about land and water as their use-value changes. The question is, how do you see the future of the region, its waterfront, your neighborhood? What river-future do you have in mind for your children?