Youghioghey River of the Year Sojourn Fun, Educational

The Pennsylvania 2008 River of the Year was celebrated for four days during the Youghiogheny River Sojourn, which concluded Sunday.

Overall, 90 people participated in the sojourn to learn about George Washington’s trip down the Yough, the waterway’s continuing recovery from past mining and other degradation, and the wealth that coal once brought to the region – well, actually they came mostly to paddle, have fun and make new friends, but they went home at least a little more educated.

The event was organized by PEC and sponsored by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which supports this and other programs with assistance from the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers.

Cindy Dunn, Deputy Secretary of DCNR, took part in the sojourn and explained that the agency supports the River of the Year program to “shine a line” on some of the state’s most scenic and important rivers.  She said the Youghiogheny had been selected this year in part because of work that DCNR and PEC are doing to build sustainable recreation and tourism as an economic catalyst for the Laurel Highlands region.

The sojourn began Thursday, July 17, with a visit to Youghiogheny Dam, a facility built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers primarily for flood control but also for “low-flow augmentation,” meaning that the river does not get as low as it used to in dry times.  Participants then enjoyed a nine-mile paddle down the Middle Yough from near Confluence to Ohiopyle on class I and II river sections.  After dinner, author Bill Metzger provided an entertaining history of the river, including Washington’s disappointment in finding Ohiopyle Falls because he there realized the impossibility of a water route to the Forks of the Ohio River – now Pittsburgh.

On Friday, July 18, participants enjoyed a seven-mile whitewater adventure down the Lower Yough, with whitewater rapids that are classified as Class III and IV.  Staff from Ohiopyle State Park provided interpretation the water both Thursday and Friday, and lead an intriguing frog hunt under the full moon that evening.

Saturday, July 19 began with brunch at the Cochran House in the unique little town of Dawson, a National Historic District that has several fabulous structures as well as houses built for working miners.  The 10-mile canoe paddle included interpretation by John Markle, who created an environmental education center at West Newton along the river, and by Denny Tubbs of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, who also sponsored a “Family Fishing Event” at Cedar Creek Park campground.

On Sunday, July 20, Jim Shaulis of DCNR’s Topographic and Geologic Survey explained a rather unusual formation call a “tufa” before boaters took off for another 10-mile canoe and kayak float, which ended about three miles short when heavy thunder storms moved in, which many participants said had been the only disappointment of the four-day event.