The River Town Program

The River Town Program helps communities recognize the river as an asset around which civic and economic development can occur, and thus a resource worthy of protection.

The overall objective of the River Town Program is to provide an efficient, effective, and regionally-based resource to help local communities recognize the river as a potential economic and community asset, and thus a resource worthy of protection. PEC has initiated river town programs along the Allegheny River, Monongahela River, Schuylkill River, and French Creek.

Strategies include:

  • Economic growth based on outdoor recreational services and businesses.
  • Community engagement that connects residents with healthy leisure activities through outdoor recreation.
  • Well-maintained business districts that offer needed goods, services, and jobs.
  • Safe, clean, “green,” and well-maintained communities that demonstrate continuous community re-investment.
  • Effective, well-maintained, and well-managed community infrastructure and resources.
  • Economically and socially desirable land uses that support strong, vital, and healthy business growth, stability, expansion, and turnover.
  • Strong and healthy communities based on a sound institutional foundation that supports strategic decision-making, informed action, and continuous reinvestment.


Outdoor recreation is a booming segment of the U.S. economy, particularly in waterfront destinations.

“Recent studies across the country have shown that connecting communities to natural resources can provide opportunities for economic growth, increase the quality of life of local residents, raise property values, and attract new business investment.”

February 26, 2016

PEC Launches River Town Program in Allegheny Riverfront Communities

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) continues its work to strengthen communities through their connections to rivers and riverfronts. In this ongoing effort, PEC is happy to partner again with Millvale, Etna, and Blawnox as part of the Allegheny River Town Program.

Funded by the Hillman Foundation, the two-year project will build stewardship of the Allegheny River through education and engagement while assisting the communities in community development projects. The towns will have direct technical assistance in community development work with a focus on greater use and connections to the riverfront.

The economic benefits of a growing outdoor recreational market give towns with riverfront access greater opportunities to attract both visitors and business investment. Building on this, PEC launched the River Town Program in 2010 in Sharpsburg, Blawnox, Aspinwall, O’Hara Township, Etna, and Millvale. At that time, the program introduced municipalities to the value of the outdoor recreation market and worked closely with the business community to offer services and products to attract growing numbers of visitors.

“We are excited to continue this conversation and program, which began as a strategic planning process within our communities and now those seeds have begun to grow,” Etna Borough Manager Mary Ellen Ramage said. “It is an exciting time for this renewal in our communities.”

PEC and McCollom Development Strategies (MDS) will work with the communities to identify and launch priority projects to take advantage of increased recreational uses. There are significant investments already being made in some of the individual communities, and the River Town Program will seek to leverage these investments with a regional approach that emphasizes strength in numbers.

“These are communities that continue to transform themselves, and their participation in the program, along with the funding from the Hillman Foundation, allow all the partners to build on what they have already accomplished,” PEC President Davitt Woodwell said. “Efforts like this are happening across the Commonwealth, and we are very happy to have the chance to work with communities like Millvale, Etna, and Blawnox.”

As a result of work by the communities, many engaged citizens in the region’s riverfront communities are already working hard on projects they identified as priorities for improving their towns. Projects range from removing invasive plant species to building river access infrastructure, gateway and urban gardens, engaging local artists to create public art, and integrating a comprehensive wayfinding system.

Over the next two years, PEC and MDS will work with these communities on river and trail connection projects, taking the lead and direction from local leadership and community priorities.

August 28, 2015

Lindsay Baxter Discusses PEC’s River Town Program on the Allegheny Front Radio Program

The Allegheny Front, a radio program covering Pennsylvania’s environment, welcomed Lindsay Baxter, PEC Program Manager for Energy & Climate, into its Pittsburgh studio to discuss PEC’s River Town Program.

Baxter outlined the River Town Program’s work in helping to transform riverfront communities and attract tourists, all while embracing the river.

“The one key factor is that the communities themselves are ready and willing to work with us on everything from outdoor recreation to community and economic development, and it’s all based on recognizing the value of the river,” Baxter said.

Listen to the interview here.

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