Part of the 30 Years, 30 Changes series on the Pittsburgh region
October 20, 2013 8:00 AM
A gym class from CAPA makes its approach to the shore on the Allegheny River.
Joe Russell of Imperial takes a leap off the Riverwalk into the Allegheny River.
A mayfly craws along a wall at PNC Park on the North Shore. The return of the mayflies is just one indication that the rivers are becoming healthy.
By Don Hopey Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh's rivers, ceded to industry and sullied by sewage and mill waste for more than a century, have been revived by federal and state regulations prohibiting dirty discharges and reclaimed by boaters, bass and other biota.
Over the past 30 years the 90.5 miles of rivers and more than 2,000 miles of streams in Allegheny County have flowed greener and cleaner, beckoning an again eager public to dip a toe and more into the region's most aesthetic and defining amenity.
The U.S. Congress recognized the tug of cleaner currents when it designated 87 miles of the upper Allegheny River in Warren, Forest and Venango counties as part of the national Wild and Scenic River program in 1992. And by the summer of 2001, the region's riparian revival was confirmed by the appearance on city skyscrapers of thousands of big, wispy-winged mayflies, whose aquatic-based life cycle -- while a common sight on pristine trout streams -- had been missing in Pittsburgh for at least a century and a half.
Additional proof can be found in the put ins. The now-annual Head of the Ohio rowing regatta was launched in 1986. Kayaks followed in 2004 when Venture Outdoors started Kayak Pittsburgh, an increasingly popular boat rental operation on the North Shore that now has more than 100 of the banana-shaped boats. The Pittsburgh Triathlon also features a swimming leg.
Perhaps the most prominent indication of the rivers' renaissance, and one that provided international recognition, occurred in July 2005, when the Citgo Bassmaster Classic -- the biggest fishing tournament in the world -- cast 47 professional anglers onto waters where few if any smallmouth and largemouth bass were able to live three decades ago.