The Monongahela is in running for state's River of the Year

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The Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers said years of coal mining and steel-making took an environmental toll on the Monongahela River, but recent improvements in water quality have resulted in extensive recreational use.

With industrial and recreational activity co-existing on the 129-mile-long river, the Monongahela is now vying for the title of Pennsylvania's 2013 River of the Year designation, which comes with a $10,000 award.

The public can cast ballots online through Jan. 18 that will be tallied to determine which of the six nominated rivers (the Monongahela, Kiskiminetas, Swatara Creek, Schuylkill, Juniata and Lackawanna) will get the title.

Josh Karns, project manager for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, said that as of this week -- with only about 10 percent of the expected votes cast -- the Lackawanna is in first place with 41 percent of the vote. The Monongahela is tied for third, getting about 10 percent of the vote.

"Last year, the Mon placed second with about 28 percent of the total vote," Mr. Karns said. "Right now, the vote is weighted in favor of those nominating organizations that promoted their rivers early."

To cast a ballot online, go to www.pawatersheds.org/vote. The website includes a photo of each nominated river, along with a 200- to 300-word essay about the river, its history and what the nominating organization intends to do with award money.

The PEC is monitoring the voting process to ensure that no one votes more than once, and voting tallies will be updated on the website.

The award will be made in March.

Different groups have done different things with award money, Mr. Karns noted. Last year's winner, the group representing Stonycreek River near Johnstown, used the funds to promote its white-water resources and reach a broader audience. Stonycreek won with 44 percent of the vote.

The previous year's winner, the Delaware, used the money to publish a brochure about river access that was distributed regionally in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It also established a fund to introduce new people to kayaking and canoeing.

This year, the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation nominated the Monongahela River. If selected, the group will work with the River Town Program to host walking/paddling tours of the towns along the river to share the local stories of the growth, decline and lasting environmental impacts of the industrial era.

The Brownsville group will also work to extend a new welcome and directional sign program. Existing river-related events that occur in the six communities participating in the Mon River Town Program (California, Brownsville, Fredericktown, Rices Landing, Greensboro and Point Marion) will be coordinated to celebrate the River of the Year.

If the Monongahela is selected this year, the entire river will get the designation, but the focus will be on the Middle Mon area, Mr. Karns said.

A program of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the River of the Year designation increases public awareness.

Pennsylvania's River of the Year designations have been presented annually since 1983. The Clarion River received the first designation; the Monongahela has never been selected. Three years ago, the state program started the popular vote.

The DCNR estimates that more than 10,000 people "put in" Pennsylvania rivers on kayaks and canoes in 2012, accounting for more than 500 total paddled miles.

"Individually, each of these waterways showcases unique natural resources and recreational potential," said the group's secretary, Richard J. Allan. "Collectively, they demonstrate just how blessed Pennsylvania is with its rivers and streams."

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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