It’s awards season, and in Pennsylvania that means naming the 2024 River of the Year. This year’s winner, after a record-breaking public vote, is the Allegheny River.
More than 8300 people had cast an online ballot for the Allegheny by the January 19 deadline. The Youghiogheny River finished in second place, with 7,212 votes, and the Lackawaxen River came in third, with 4,740 votes. A total of 20,259 votes were cast, far surpassing last year’s total of 11,438 votes.
The annual competition, administered by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers (POWR) (an affiliate of PEC), raises public awareness about the state’s natural resources and funds initiatives to connect communities with their local waterways.
“We are excited to honor the Allegheny River as Pennsylvania’s 2024 River of the Year, and I cannot wait to celebrate this incredible river during a sojourn later this year,” said Cindy Adams Dunn, of DCNR. “Congratulations to Three Rivers Waterkeeper for the successful campaign and earning this prestigious honor. Thank you to everyone who voted in this wonderful competition highlighting one of our most precious natural resources.”
Stretching approximately 325 miles, the Allegheny River traces its headwaters to a wildflower field in Potter County, flowing northward into New York before curving southwest into the Allegheny Reservoir. Its journey ends in Pittsburgh, where its waters join with the Monongahela at the confluence of the Ohio River.
Along the way, the Allegheny passes through rolling farmland, small towns, and winding valleys, providing drinking water to more than one million people and acting as an ecologically and economically precious water trail. Its biodiversity includes hundreds of bird species, at least 50 species of mammals, 80 species of fish, and 25 species of mussels, including the endangered Salamander Mussel (Simpsonaias ambigua) that improves water quality by filtering sediment and pollutants.
In 1992, 87 miles of the Allegheny River were added to the National Wild & Scenic River System, which noted its remarkable natural and recreational value and preserved its free-flowing condition. Included in those miles are the Allegheny Islands Wilderness, popular for dispersed camping, exploration, and viewing scenery and wildlife.
“POWR would like to commend everyone for their support for the nominated rivers, especially for the strong showing of support for the Allegheny River,” said PEC’s Janet Sweeney, who serves as Vice President of POWR. “The River of the Year program continues to engage our communities by providing a wonderful opportunity to showcase all the nominated rivers and the great work being done in Pennsylvania on these resources.”
Three Rivers Waterkeeper, which nominated the Allegheny River, will receive a $10,000 Leadership Grant to help fund a slate of year-long 2024 River of the Year activities. Jess Friss, the Director of Community Programs at Three Rivers Waterkeeper, said the organization is planning a summer kickoff to celebrate. Each year, DCNR and POWR also support a commemorative sojourn where people can paddle the winning river.
“We were so excited to see just how many people came together to show their support for the Allegheny River after we nominated it for River of the Year,” Friss said. “We are dedicated to protecting the water quality of the Allegheny River and all its uses, and knowing that it was awarded the River of the Year because of the support of the community shows the collective commitment to environmental stewardship, recreation, and love for our waterways that defines this community.”
Regardless of which river comes out on top, the annual competition spurs excitement around and interest in the state’s waterways. That was particularly true this voting round, with news organizations across the Commonwealth promoting their significance and highlighting the community-focused work to improve access on the nominated rivers.
More information on the activities planned to celebrate the Allegheny River will be announced in the coming months. To read the full press release from DCNR, visit https://www.media.pa.gov/pages/DCNR_details.aspx?newsid=1053. You can also visit DCNR’s website for a calendar of events on public lands.