The Shenango River, 2021 River of the Year

Since 1983, Pennsylvanians have had the opportunity to rally around their favorite state waterway and vote for the River of the Year. This year’s winner is the Shenango River, which runs for 82 miles in Western Pennsylvania, eventually joining with the Mahoning to form the Beaver River northwest of Pittsburgh.

Many wildlife species call the Shenango River watershed home. Photo courtesy of Brandi Baros.

While some waterways have won the honor multiple times, this is a first for the Shenango River and the nominating organization, the Shenango River Watchers. The River of the Year recognition raises awareness of the history of Pennsylvania’s rivers and their important roles as recreational and ecological hubs. The award also highlights the work of the watershed organizations who nominate the winning rivers.

“The River of the Year selection does much more than focus on attributes of the most deserving Shenango, it recognizes the Shenango River Watchers and other supporters who rallied behind it,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “This annual honor recognizes not only our state’s wealth of rivers and streams, but also the dedicated folks who fight to protect them.”

The Shenango River Watchers was founded in 2001 by a group of citizens who wanted to provide education on their local river and opportunities to get involved in its stewardship. They hoped that with increased awareness of the Shenango’s value and beauty, people would come out to care for it and use it for recreation. Since then, the group has cleaned up over 1.5 million pounds of trash from the watershed.

“We really think that we’re a hidden gem here in northwestern Pennsylvania.”

The Shenango River Watchers now hosts many successful programs and activities in addition to their river clean-ups, including hands-on environmental learning opportunities, habitat restoration projects, paddling events, and fly-fishing clinics. They also maintain a channel on the river from Pymatuning dam to Greenville for paddling during the warmer months.

Paddling on the Shenango River. Photo courtesy of Brandi Baros.

“We really think that we’re a hidden gem here in northwestern Pennsylvania,” said Shenango River Watchers President Brandi Baros. “It’s a fantastic river to kayak, particularly if you’re a beginner kayaker because the water’s not terribly rough… You don’t have to be a highly skilled kayaker to like this water.”

The Shenango River Watchers will receive a $10,000 grant to fund activities throughout 2021 to celebrate the river. They hope that the funding will help increase publicity for the river and draw more people to their events.

“We want to bring people out here to experience the Shenango River, to experience the Shenango Valley and what we have to offer. The $10,000 that comes with [the award] to help us run those events would help us scale up in a way we haven’t before,” said Ms. Baros.

The Shenango River was chosen as the 2021 River of the Year from a group of five finalists. The other waterways nominated as finalists were the Buffalo Creek, Lehigh River, Loyalhanna Creek and Tunkhannock Creek. Public voting for the award closed at the end of January.


Listen to interviews with other 2021 River of the Year finalists on our podcast here

The River of the Year award is organized by the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers (POWR), an affiliate of PEC, and DCNR.

“Enthusiasm for River of the Year continues to grow,” said Janet Sweeney, VP at POWR and PEC. “This program truly is a wonderful opportunity to showcase all the nominated waterways and the great work being done in Pennsylvania communities on these valuable resources.”