Monongahela River Boat Rental Business Could Spur Economic
Growth, Coalition Told
21 November 2015
By Joe Napsha,
The Monongahela River's miles-long expanse of flat water, broken
into pools created by a series of locks and dams, can be an ideal
setting for an outfitter renting canoes and kayaks, but the
challenge has been getting entrepreneurs to take the plunge into
that business, a group of river town representatives said.
It's not only a matter of encouraging the opening of a canoe and
kayak rental business, but the boat rental market would have to
expand and an outfitter would have to decide the best site to
operate along the river, Cathy McCollom, co-director of the Mon
River Valley Coalition, said during a recent meeting in Charleroi
to discuss the future of the organization.
Those foundations and agencies funding the coalition efforts since
2011 want to see business growth, McCollom told about a dozen
representatives from the coalition river towns in Washington,
Greene and Fayette counties and the Morgantown, W.Va., area. The
River Town Program, originally launched by the Pennsylvania
Environmental Council in 2011, has pumped $2 million into projects
in the region, McCollom said.
“At the end of the day, we are doing this to improve business,”
One possibility of raising interest in boat rentals on the river
would be to market the river towns in the pools between the locks
and dams, said Donna Holdorf, co-director of the coalition and
executive director of the National Road Heritage Corridor in
Uniontown. The National Road Heritage Corridor assumed leadership
of the River Town program in 2014.
A river sojourn is an activity that the river town program should
promote, McCollom said.
The locks and dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers divide
the river into separate pools. Boaters have access to a 20-mile
pool between Charleroi and Maxwell Dam, located between
Brownsville and Fredericktown. Between Maxwell Dam and Grey's
Landing Dam near Greensboro, the pool is 18 miles long and an
18-mile pool exists between Grey's Landing Dam and the Point
Flat water paddling, however, is not an easy sell and West
Virginia has had a hard time marketing flat water paddling, said
Ella Belling, executive director of the Monongahela River Trails
Conservancy of Morgantown, W.Va.
A potential place for a canoe-kayak rental business is the 14-acre
Point Marion Community Park, where the Cheat River flows into the
Monongahela River, said Point Marion Councilwoman Vicky Evans.
The riverfront park has boat docks and a kayak launch and a shed
where boats can be stored, Evans said. Launching a boat at the
park gives boaters the opportunity to paddle the Cheat or
Monongahela rivers, as well as Dunkard Creek, a few miles
downstream on the Monongahela River.
For a canoe rental and kayak rental business to be successful on
the river, it needs to providers boaters with launching site
put-in point and a take-out site upstream or downstream, where
boaters end their trip, Charleroi Borough Manager Donn Henderson
Charleroi has a boat ramp by its town's former high school
stadium, but work is continuing on improving the site.
California Borough, home to California University of Pennsylvania
and thousands of students who could paddle on the river, could be
a starting or ending point for a trip on the river, Henderson
said. Charleroi is in the same pool on the river as California.
Brownsville has a wharf, but it is underutilized, said Brownsville
Mayor Lester J. Ward.
One drawback to paddling canoes and kayaks on the Monongahela
River is the amount of motor boat traffic using the river, said
Dennis Slagle, president of the Fredericktown Chamber of Commerce.
Canoes and kayaks can be launches from the East Bethlehem Township
docks at Fredericktown.
“We're trying to find ways to get people into the river. We are
trying to develop the river as an economic engine,” Henderson
An effort to get the towns along the river to conduct events on
the same weekend has not worked out as hoped for because of the
difficulty of coordinating events, McCollom said.
“We're (coalition) not going to be able to do events all the time.
The return on investment” is not worth all of the time it takes to
work on those activities, he said.
Several representatives said the coalition should have a marketing
person to promote the region. Because of the difficulty in
obtaining funding, it most likely a part-time position. Henderson
suggested that a college graduate students could be hired, while
McCollom said it would be good to have one for two years.
If not a graduate student, McCollom said a consulting business
within the Mon Valley might serve as the marketing agency.
“Marketing internally and externally should be a priority for the
next two years,” McCollom said.
The coalition could have more communities to publicize in a
marketing initiative because more towns want to be involved in the
organization, said Holdorf, who declined to identify those towns.
“The river is the thing that holds us together. We've haven't
begun to tap into that. It is a great link to pull us together,”
said Norma Ryan, a member of the Brownsville Area Revitalization
Corp. and a former Brownsville mayor.