Multiple events to celebrate Monongahela River honor

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Events all summer long will celebrate the Monongahela as the 2013 Pennsylvania River of the Year.

The honor was officially received on Saturday during a ceremony in Brownsville where the official river of the year poster was unveiled. The event was hosted by the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp.

A schedule for events in numerous towns that line the river can be found at www.monrivertowns.com.

The Monongahela River, referred to locally as the Mon, is a 130-mile-long river in north-central West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. The Mon joins the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River in Pittsburgh. The name Monongahela is a version of the Native American word for "falling banks," in reference to the geological instability of the river's banks.

The Mon river won thanks to popular vote said Joshua Karns, project director for Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, which partners with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to administer the award.

The Monongahela received 8,156 votes out of 25,450 tallied. Mr. Karns noted that this was the third year that popular vote chose the River of the Year.

Mr. Karns said that rivers are nominated, and then four to six rivers are selected to be voted on. In addition to the Monongahela, voters could cast a ballot for the Schuylkill, Lackawanna, Kiskiminetas and Juniata rivers or the Swatara Creek.

The River Town Program represents some of the communities along the Mon in Allegheny, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties and was instrumental in creating awareness about the river in the voting process.

"We nominated the Monongahela, then really advocated ...it was like a political campaign," said Cathy McCollom, director for the River Town.

Ms. McCollom said that organization assists some towns along the river, including Point Marion, Greensboro, Rices Landing, Fredericktown, Brownsville and California, to develop and utilize the natural resources of the river to drive recreational use and therefore economic development.

Winning the popular vote was important not only in securing the title but also in increasing awareness about keeping rivers clean.

"Just the process was exciting -- getting people involved in appreciating what is in their own backyards," Ms. McCollom said.

The designation will also assist with bringing awareness to these recreational opportunities with out-of-towners, Ms. McCollom said

"If we attract visitors, we also can attract businesses," she said.

River Town also launched a four-month program to further promote the river when they learned the Monongahela had won River of the Year, including hiring students at California University in the design studio to create a logo.

"We wanted to keep everything local because that is what this is about -- promoting local assets," Ms. McCollum said.

There were also special events, including four structured paddles. The first was held in May to invite visitors to experience the river, with three others slated for this summer.

Lindsay Baxter, project manager with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council who is working with River Town, said "we welcome paddlers of all experiences; if people don't have equipment, they can rent it."

The paddling series and other events are important on many levels, Ms. Baxter noted.

"The important thing is to recognize the values of our rivers. And once people start using the rivers, they become interested in conserving them," she said.

Ms. Baxter echoed Ms. McCollom's views.

"It is important for the communities to support their rivers. They used to be used for transportation and industry, and now we have to turn and embrace them for their natural resources and recreational values," Ms. Baxter said. .

"The rivers were used for industry and some of them, such as the Monongahela, suffered because of that. Many people still think of the Monongahela as polluted, but it has really made a comeback" Mr. Karns said.

The River of the Year project helps not only to promote recreational use of the state's rivers but also to increase awareness for their preservation.

"The Monongahela is a model," Mr. Karns said.

neigh_east - neigh_south - neigh_washington

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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