The Morning File: River of the Year? C'mon, man, it's got to be
14 January 2013
By Gary Rotstein
The Morning File hasn't been this excited about a voting
competition since the time we and friends conducted a late-night
poll in a bar about which Pittsburgh celebrity seemed least like a
Pittsburgher. (Andy Warhol won over Dennis Miller.)
We're talking now, of course, about the online voting for
Pennsylvania's 2013 River of the Year.
This is a historic Western Pennsylvania moment because the
Monongahela River has the chance to be designated, for the first
time ever, as the state River of the Year. Never in its many
thousands of years of existence has the Mon been so close to such
a noble distinction. (It might have once been voted Best River to
Spit in From a Bridge, but that's about it.)
The annual River of the Year designation dates only to 1983 rather
than the Ice Age, but still, you'd think the mighty Mon would have
been picked sometime during the past three decades. Sure, it's had
its down years, littered with pollution, but it's not like it's
the flaming Cuyahoga or anything.
For many years, the River of the Year was chosen by state
officials with no democratic vote. It was as though our waterways
were all running through North Korea. That changed in 2011, when
it was first put to an online ballot, and the Clarion River
emerged the winner. Last year, the Mon finished second to the
Stonycreek River near Johnstown (another underdog, to be sure).
This year, it's a six-river race in voting at
www.pawatersheds.org/vote. Here's where the vote tallies stood at
the end of last week, with balloting permitted through this coming
• Schuylkill River near Philadelphia (a potentially strong winner
you'd love to hate -- sort of the Ed Rendell of waterways): 30.75
• Lackawanna River in the state's northeast (presumably pulling in
lots of votes from fans of "The Office"): 26.28 percent.
• Monongahela (name comes from the Indian for "many, many coal
barges"): 24.13 percent.
• Kiskiminetas River (an unfortunate vote-splitter for the local
region): 10.49 percent.
• Swatara Creek (c'mon, shouldn't that be in the Creek of the Year
contest?): 5.46 percent.
• Juniata River in the south-central part of the state: 2.9
The Morning File could be accused of parochial provincialism (or
better yet, provincial parochialism) for throwing its substantial
disinfluence behind the local river, but we can make a good case
for it. For one thing, it's such a hard river to spell (unlike,
say, the Ohhio).
One need look no further than the archives of the Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette, which over the past two decades has made 61
references to "Monogahela." That would sound pretty bad except for
the fact that in the same period the newspaper has printed
"Monongehela" 66 times. (To be fair to the newspaper, it has had
14,070 correct spellings of "Monongahela" in that span, so we've
been right more often than not.)
Then there's the matter of the missing B-25 bomber. What other
river has the mystery surrounding it of the Air Force plane that
crashed into the river near the Glenwood Bridge on Jan. 31, 1956,
never to be seen again? What's the Schuylkill got buried in it to
compare (other than maybe a couple of former mob bosses)?
The Mon has come a long way since the day it was lined in
Pittsburgh with the nighttime fires of belching steel mills. Now
it's lined with bicyclists taking their belching babies on family
recreational outings. That kind of transformation since the 1970s
is rivaled only by Ford's success in rebounding from the Pinto.
Each River of the Year competitor has to be nominated by someone
to get onto the ballot, and while The Morning File would like to
take credit for it, it was actually the Brownsville Area
Revitalization Corp. If its candidate emerges victorious, it means
$10,000 from the state will be allocated to promote
walking/paddling tours along the river, enhance directional signs
(hopefully, spelled correctly) and for other promotional purposes.
We can only hope that this is the result. The Morning File has a
bad track record in such elections, having backed nothing but
losers since 1980 presidential candidate John Anderson.
It is time for that streak to end, which can only happen with your
help. But don't do it for The Morning File -- do it for the mighty
and mightily overlooked Mon.
Gary Rotstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1255.