River Tour Celebrates Reopening of Hildebrand, Opekiska
Morgantown Dominion Post
15 June 2015
By Amanda DeProspero
The buzz phrase on the river Saturday morning was “victory tour.”
Despite a downpour, politicians, officials and other guests didn’t
let anything rain on their parade as they celebrated the reopening
of Hildebrand and Opekiska locks and dams while seeing the
Monongahela River from a different perspective.
In 2012, due to staffing problems, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers closed the Hildebrand and Opekiska locks to recreational
Saturday’s tour, arranged by the Upper Monongahela River
Association (UMRA) — which worked in conjunction with area
councils and commissions to reopen the locks — was a celebration
of sorts and took a boat full of people through the Morgantown
dam, up to Hildebrand and then back the other way to the Point
Marion dam. It is one of three tours happening this year; the next
two will be Saturday and June 27.
Marion County Commission President Randy Elliott was along for the
“The fact that we were able to keep the locks open here is vitally
important to both Marion and Mon County, and since we’ve been
successful in that endeavor, we’re just going to take a look today
and go down through the locks and get a good look at everything
that’s going on,” he said.
“It took a long time coming to get these locks to stay open. It’s
a matter of, like most things, dollars and cents. When there’s not
enough money and not enough commerce, then the government’s going
to shut them down.”
Barry Pallay, president of the UMRA, said while the group has
taken great strides toward keeping the dams open, there’s more
work to be done.
“We will begin an effort this coming year to increase the number
of days that we have the locks open at Opekiska and Hildebrand.
We’ll continue to maintain seven days a week on the Morgantown
pool, and we’ll continue to work together on this. This is a
really great example of how working together you can accomplish
things that were deemed impossible not too long ago,” he said.
Pallay called it a “stopgap measure” until the Army Corps of
Engineers is able to take over with federal funding.
Frank Jernejcic, UMRA vice president and a retired West Virginia
Division of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, took a few
moments during the tour to explain the lock and dam structures.
“We’ve got three locks in West Virginia, six locks in
Pennsylvania,” he said.
“The pools of the river are named for the lock that impounds the
The Point Marion pool, which is between Point Marion, Pa., and
Morgantown, is 11 miles long. The Morgantown pool, between
Morgantown and Hildebrand locks and dams, is 6 miles long. The
Hildebrand pool is 7 miles long and runs between Hildebrand and
Opekiska. And the Opekiska pool, between Opekiska and Fairmont, is
13 miles long.
They’re a huge, largely untapped resource for Mon and Marion
counties, Elliott said.
Getting the locks open was important to him for the Bassmaster
Classic; the 2015 Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation Mid-Atlantic
Divisional will be held Wednesday-Friday in Fairmont. Events like
this, he said, bring people into town that will buy gasoline, eat
at local restaurants and stay in the hotels.
“I am an avid fisherman. I really enjoy fishing, and a lot of
people do. It means a lot to have a clean river, a river that’s
accessible and a river that we can get to through our locks,” he
“You can’t put a value on the Mon River. It’s a beautiful river,
and if you do nothing but look at it, it’s wonderful.”
Deputy Mayor Marti Shamberger said Morgantown City Council was
approached for financial support to open the locks again, and the
council voted unanimously to support the effort. She enjoyed the
“victory tour” as well on Saturday, along with council member
Nancy Ganz; Jay Redmond, who was recently elected to City Council;
and Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, among others.
“I just think this is so exciting, and it certainly makes us look
at our community different, from the river perspective,”
Shamberger said. “It certainly opens my eyes up for more
development, more recreation opportunities and just to enjoy the
Tom Bartlett, who is mayor of Grafton, active in the Coast Guard
Auxiliary and a UMRA board member, owns and pilots the 52-foot
Enchantress Coastal Cruiser, which transports the groups along the
river during the tour. He said it’s a great opportunity to show
those who are “instrumental to government affairs” the Mon and its
“We take the boat out and get these people acquainted with this
part of the world from the river’s point of view,” he said, “and