River Enthusiasts Tap into Public’s Interest About Mon

Morgantown Dominion Post
13 September 2012

GOODWILL CITY - THIS COLUMN HIGHLIGHTS positive experiences that regularly occur in the Morgantown area. The hope is that spotlighting such experiences will remind people of the friendliness that defines the majority of West Virginia’s Mountaineers nation. IF YOU HAVE an experience to share, send information to newsroom@dominionpost.com.

IT STARTED IN 2000 as the Upper Monongahela Committee for Better Boating, a group of residents who used the Monongahela River for business and for pleasure.

They wanted better recreational access to the Mon River, with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considering recreational needs when it set hours for the Opekiska, Hildebrand and Morgantown navigational locks.

In 2004, to reflect a broader spectrum of interests, the name was changed to Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA).

The members became active in the Mon River Recreation and Commerce Committee of the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce, resulting in the first Mon River Summit.

The summit drew a variety of people with river interests, from business and industry to state officials, Army Corps officers and independent boating groups.

If it relates to the Monongahela River in some way, the key members of UMRA are following things closely. This includes the September 2009 Dunkard Creek fish kill and the current debate on drilling Marcellus shale.

UMRA’s mission, as posted on the website, is, “to promote the general development of the area encompassed by the drainage basin for the Upper Monongahela River in West Virginia.”

The group has grown in prestige in the boating world. It’s even organized regular meetings between the Army Corps Pittsburgh District engineer and West Virginia and Pennsylvania boating interests.

While UMRA has a serious mission, the founders don’t hide their sense of humor. Hidden at the bottom of the links on the UMRA website is “The Loonies Behind UMRA.”

Key among them are Don Strimbeck, a retired energy researcher and Army colonel who lives in Granville, and Wally Venable, a retired WVU engineering professor. Both have docks on the Mon and boat on it regularly.

Strimbeck is UMRA’s resident researcher. He maintains a massive e-mail contact list, sending daily messages containing articles on issues affecting the Mon.

His sources range from the Wall Street Journal to the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, in the heart of New York’s shaledrilling debate.

The Daily Update includes alerts of problems, such as the recent spill of drilling lubricant into Dunkard Creek, near Blacksville, by a company running a pipe under the creek as part of a Marcellus shale project.

As interest in Marcellus shale issues have grown, his Daily Update has become a way to keep up with concerns being raised far from the shores of the Mon.