Improved Access No. 1 Goal of Monongahela River Town Program
5 April 2014
By Joe Napsha, Staff ReporterAbout Joe Napsha
Joe Napsha 724-836-5252
Charleroi has joined other Mon Valley towns that are hoping to
boost economic development by improving access to the Monongahela
River, which they anticipate will result in more people using the
river to boat and fish, and possibly spend money in their towns.
“We're hoping to enhance our riverfront and use it an economic
engine for downtown,” Charleroi Borough Manager Donn Henderson
To attract more people to Charleroi, the borough wants to improve
its Second Street boat ramp that lies between a stone and gravel
company and Charleroi Area High School's former football stadium.
The access is not well-maintained, as the borough has dumped road
gravel along one side of the road leading to the water's edge,
To achieve its goals of increasing recreational opportunities and
boosting economic development, Charleroi is working with of the
Monongahela River Town Program, a three-year initiative which
promotes sustainable economic development through outdoor
recreation as an economic engine in towns along the river, said
Cathy McCollom, who directs the program.
Charleroi, Brownsville and Monongahela are in the midst of the
program, while Point Marion in Fayette County, Rices Landing and
Greensboro in Greene County and Fredericktown and California
Borough have “graduated” from the three-year effort to revitalize
the region's economy while conserving the river as a valuable
resource, McCollom said.
Tourism promotion agencies in Westmoreland, Fayette, Washington
and Greene counties and county-wide economic development agencies
in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties have added their clout
to the effort.
“The goal of the program is to work together as a region to
attract business,” McCollom said.
The river town program has pumped more than $1 million into
projects enhancing Mon Valley river towns, said Lindsay Baxter,
who manages the program for the Pennsylvania Environmental
Council, a statewide conservation organization. The money for the
projects has come from grants and support from Pittsburgh
foundations, Baxter said.
The realization that the river is an economic resource, will most
naturally lead to conservation efforts of that valuable resource,
which fits the environmental council's mission, McCollom said.
“This (program) is another tool in your economic toolbox,”
The Mon Valley communities can benefit from a resurgence in the
Monongahela River, which was named Pennsylvania's River of the
Year in 2013, the consultant said.
“There is a growing recognition of just how extraordinary the
Monongahela River is,” McCollom said.
Charleroi is like so many other Mon Valley towns, where the steel
mills and other factories took up valuable riverfront property
that was used to receive and transport manufactured goods by the
water, or use the river as a water source or as an outlet for
their waste products.
“These industries come and go, but the river is not going
anywhere,” Henderson said.
Since the Monongahela River was designated last year as
Pennsylvania's River of the Year by the state Department of
Conservation and Natural Resources, the river town program was
able to “massive marketing” about the river and the recreational
opportunities it offers, McCollom said.
“Spread the word that the Monongahela is more than an industrial
highway. It is a magnificent resource that is close to your
backyard,” McCollom said.
Recreation along the Monongahela River is the hook that will draw
people to those towns. If people don't come to these communities,
how will they ever know about business opportunities in those
towns, McCollom questioned. But these towns need a clean gateway
with open and clean businesses along the entrance to the community
and clear signage directing visitors toward the riverfront,
While Charleroi and other Mon Valley towns have public
infrastructure that permits access to the river, some of it is in
disrepair, McCollom said. The river town program will encourage
improvements to the public infrastructure, McCollom said.
Improving the boat ramp, plus adding a dock and a fishing pier
that is handicapped-accessible, could cost between $30,000 and
$40,000, Henderson said. The borough may use money from its
Community Development Block Grant and intends to seek grants from
foundations in the region, Henderson said.
The borough also would like to create a walking trail that
connects Charleroi with other communities along the river,
In California Borough, a master recreation plan has been developed
for a biking-walking California Loop Trail that could connect the
river to the town's seven neighborhood and community parks.
The March 2013 study recommended California create selective open
corridors to view the river, without losing significant tree
cover, as well as improving river access sites. The borough has
only one river access site — the Union Street Wharf.
Brownsville wants to create a performance stage at a Market Street
site that has been cleared of buildings, said Norma Ryan,
treasurer of the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp., which is
directing the borough's efforts for the river program. Plans are
to landscape the site in the second phase of the project, Ryan
“It just fits into the river town plan for economic growth,” Ryan
That economic growth, Ryan said, “has so many fingers to it — the
arts, tourism, residential and small business.”
Brownsville, like other Mon Valley towns, is struggling to regain
the economic vitality it once had when coal mines, steel mills and
barge building were thriving.
“Each community has to decide what it can do for its rebirth.
Brownsville has multiple ways to survive,” Ryan said.
Even with access to the rivers, McCollom said the program has
found large and looming gaps in the services offered by the
riverfront towns. There is a lack of kayak and boat rentals,
although it is not a stand-alone business because of the low
profit margins, McCollom said. But, as added product line or
combined with selling tackle, bait, fishing equipment or bikes, or
even as a side business to a hardware store, it can work, McCollom
“That has been designated as a priority project regionally. Pull
in more kayak businesses and improve the public access to our
rivers,” said McCollom, noting the program has encouraged paddling
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be
reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more: http://triblive.com/neighborhoods/yourmonvalley/yourmonvalleymore/5864991-74/river-program-mccollom#ixzz2y5f8wYZo