March 12–Locks 5 through 9 along the Allegheny River haven’t been open to recreational boaters and river enthusiasts for nine consecutive days for three decades.
But they will be this summer, thanks to the dedication of a Kittanning nonprofit that partners with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open the locks for just that purpose.
“From June 30 through July 8, the locks will be open every day,” Linda Hemmes, board president of the Allegheny River Development Corporation, or ARDC, announced tearfully to a crowd of boaters who attended a fundraiser to benefit the organization in Harmar Saturday night. “To the best of what I can find out, this hasn’t happened in 30 years.”
ARDC pays the Corps to keep Locks 6, 7, 8, and 9, which are in South Buffalo, West Kittanning, Boggs, and Madison townships, respectively, open for recreational boaters. The Corps had previously closed Locks 6 through 9 to recreational boaters because of scant commercial traffic, which determines federal funding.
The organization fully funds the hours and operations at Locks 6 through 9 and pays for partial hours and operations at Lock 5, Hemmes said. It costs $93.50 an hour per lock.
“It’s expensive, but it’s not as expensive as some as the early alternatives we looked at,” she said.
ARDC pays for lock operations through fundraisers and grants, Hemmes said. She said events like Saturday’s fundraiser — ARDC’s fourth annual “Lock Kickoff” — pay for advertising, grant matches and enables the group to move ahead and expand.
Hemmes said ARDC designed its nine-day “Celebrate the Allegheny” event around the July 4 holiday, which falls on a Wednesday this year. In addition to being open, the locks will also have extended hours.
“We decided to go ahead and open for all those days so (boaters) can go ahead and party,” she said.
Additionally, ARDC also is asking riverfront communities to host events, no matter how small, to help celebrate the Allegheny River.
“(We’re) asking municipalities along the river to do something, even if it’s just a community picnic, to help celebrate the Allegheny since it won ‘River of the Year’ last year,” Hemmes said, noting the results of a public vote conducted by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Organization for Waterways and Rivers. “It will bring people into your town and allow them to get a better understanding of who you are, what you’re about, and what part you play in being a riverfront community.”
The culmination of the nine-day celebration will be ARDC’s annual “Rockin’ for Lockin'” event, which will take place at Riverfront Park in Kittanning on July 7. It is thrown in conjunction with Boat Pittsburgh.
“It’s a good time,” Hemmes said.
The Corps is happy to have ARDC as partners, spokesman Jeff Hawk said.
Armstrong County Commissioners Chairman Pat Fabian said “Celebrate the Allegheny” will have an economic impact on the county, which sees the Allegheny River as its best resource. He doesn’t know where the county would be without ARDC.
“These river town communities were built on these locks and dam systems,” Fabian said. “To have them back open … it brings dollars into the county.”
Terry Grantz is the owner of Boat Pittsburgh, an informational website about boating in Western Pennsylvania. He is an avid boater, docks on the Allegheny River, and said the lock openings support not only boaters but businesses and communities along the river.
“That’s the real benefit of keeping the locks open,” he said. “It’s bringing the boats north into these communities where people are spending money.”
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @maddyczebstrib.