As more boats, kayaks enjoy region’s rivers, officials urge safety

The Valley News-Dispatch

Aug. 16–Some days, only great blue herons and bald eagles cross your path on the lonelier stretches of the Allegheny River.

As more paddlers tap these slivers of wildness on local rivers, they will need to do more than admire their newfound aquatic paradise.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Venture Outdoors staged a paddle on the Allegheny River with about 20 kayaks promoting safety. The flotilla locked through Lock and Dam No. 2, near the Highland Park Bridge, the region’s busiest lock for recreational boat traffic.

The Army Corps, the agency responsible for locks and dams on the nation’s rivers, continues to promote boater knowledge of locks and dams. Two young women drowned earlier this year when their kayaks went over the Dashields dam on the Ohio River near Emsworth.

For safety’s sake, the Corps is asking the boating community — especially new paddlers — to learn where the locks and dams are located, and to learn to navigate through a lock to reach more river adventures.

The Corps provides river navigation maps on its website, while Venture Outdoors offers low-cost beginner paddler courses.

Hidden danger

As a string of kayaks approached Lock and Dam No. 2 from the upriver side, the dam could not be seen from the kayaks.

It’s one of the biggest concerns for kayakers and recreational boaters. Another danger comes from other boats, from small craft up to tugboats hauling barges.

“The biggest thing is education and awareness,” said Col. John P. Lloyd of the Corps Pittsburgh District.

Locking takes about 20 minutes, that is if there isn’t a herd of boats waiting in line, which might happen after a Pirates game or Fourth of July fireworks at The Point.

Boaters need 75 feet of mooring line that Corps lock workers tie up to the top of the lock walls to steady the boats during the change in water level.

The aging and pot-marked concrete walls of the Lock No. 2 chamber live up to their promise as a water elevator: The chamber fills up or empties 11 feet of water to deliver the boats at water level either upstream or downstream.

“Locking through is surprisingly simple, but it’s something you need to know how to do,” said Susan Crookston, founder of the Aspinwall Waterfront Park, located on the north side of the river.

Crookston is expecting more people to kayak, putting in at the park’s public launch.

“Just think: two years ago, the general public was cut off to access to these waters,” Crookston said.

The Corps and Venture Outdoors expect paddlers to increase elsewhere, too.

“We’ve seen with the lower prices of kayaks, more people are on the rivers, which is good,” Lloyd said. “But with that comes a lack of awareness.”

The number of paddlers renting kayaks from Venture Outdoors has about doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 rentals in the last five years, according to Joey-Linn Ulrich, executive director.

The nonprofit operates kayak rentals on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, North Park and most recently, Aspinwall Riverfront Park.

It’s a time of opportunity for water recreation, Crookston noted.

“The more educated paddlers are, the more they can claim what is theirs,” she said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.