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Swimming the River City

Ben Ledewitz

There is a division in Pittsburgh between people who drive over the rivers and people that put their feet in the water. Those who have primary experiences talk about amazing views, wonderful experiences and good times with friends. They leave behind a legacy of paths, extinguished campfires, chairs, and rope swings that can be identified, mapped and communicated. Through this report, I have developed a record of these uses. Those who have not experienced our rivers are turned off by images of steel mills, barges and floods. I have spoken to Pittsburghers who believe there is a lack of access, value and safety in all of Pittsburgh’s three rivers, others assume the Allegheny is the recreational river, while the Monongahela and Ohio are working rivers. The truth is that within the Pittsburgh Pool alone, from Braddock on the Monongahela to Emsworth on the Ohio, and Aspinwall on the Allegheny there are over one hundred and forty places where people currently access the river. Some are visited year round by fisherman, other are strictly summer spots that are used throughout the recreational season from May to October, weather permitting.

This report is intended to identify the range of actual uses, rather than the official, legal or accepted uses. Swimming The River City shows that people access and swim the rivers to a larger extent than one would think. A 1996 Fish and Boat Commission study found thirty-two official public access points in the same area where I found over eighty, with an additional seventy identified as potential or casual access points. It also turns out that people go to the most attractive places along the river no matter how hard they are to get to.