The Morning File: River of the Year? C'mon, man, it's got to be the Mon

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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 Here's where the vote tallies stood at the end of last week, with balloting permitted through this coming Friday:

• Schuylkill River near Philadelphia (a potentially strong winner you'd love to hate -- sort of the Ed Rendell of waterways): 30.75 percent.

• 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 percent (snicker).

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: or 412-263-1255.