Quirky, Crunchy, Cool

Interesting sites and happenings along the Mon River.

Let’s start with “cool.” The McTrail (Marion County Trail) is a short stretch of trail (2.2 miles) that packs in a lot of beauty and the ultra-cool Meredith Tunnel. Built in 1914 and put back into use in 2005, the 1,200 foot lighted tunnel in Fairmont, West Virginia, offers a cool respite on a hot summer day.

While in the area, head over to downtown Fairmont and check out Joe ‘N Throw, where coffee shop meets pottery studio. The shop celebrates local arts and culture, pottery classes, and a great little place to rehash your ride.  

Just like the north-flowing river, let’s move from south to north.

We could write a list a mile long about things to do in Morgantown. Isn’t it amazing that you can bike to a state park (Prickett’s Fort, via the Mon River Trail) or drive to a state forest (Cooper’s Rock) so effortlessly? In town, there are a number of great restaurants (find Thai, Indian, burritos, and more on High Street) and the Mountain People’s Co-op. But what we really want to tell you about is how Keith McManus, Mayor of Greensboro, Pennsylvania, has been driving down to Morgantown for 20 years to lead Morgantown Brewing Company’s Old Time Appalachian Jam starting at 9:30 on Wednesday nights.

Crossing into Pennsylvania, Point Marion’s most known local institution is Apple Annie’s, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and known for its pies, cakes, and cobblers. You won’t believe the spread! While you’re in the area, drive just outside of town to the Friendship Hill National Historic Site. Two tips here: take your walking shoes if you want to explore over 10 miles of hiking shoes, and go in September for the annual FestiFall event. Festifall will be held September 24-25 this year. Don’t forget to try the bean soup that keeps the locals coming back year after year.

One other thing about Point Marion…have you ever heard of Jordan Motor Cars? They were assembled in Cleveland from 1916-1931, made with parts from other manufacturers. We’re not exactly sure how a collection of them ended up here in Point Marion (other than the fact that they’re housed at Jordan Auto Parts on Main Street, but it’s worth peeking through the windows to some early twentieth century wheels.

We mentioned Keith McManus’s weekly trips to Morgantown. He’s also doing a lot locally to encourage the arts in at home in Greensboro. We recently partnered with Keystone Edge on this story on Greensboro’s arts-driven revitalization efforts. And the town’s Art Blast on the Mon, being held September 3 and 4 by the Nathanael Greene Community Development Corporation, is now in its 11th year.

In the Northside of Brownsville, keep an eye out for the occasional ghost walk event. We were there for one in August and were blown away by the turn out. They easily had 100 people. We couldn’t take the whole guided tour (as we had plans to go to the Brownsville Drive-In), but stopped by one of the sites. The volunteer portraying Jacob Bowman weaved a story of abolition, George Washington, deception, and community values. We could have listened to him talk for hours! Also in Brownsville, Nemacolin Castle hosts ghost tours in October and standard mansion tours on weekends throughout the year.

Finally, we cannot write about the Mon Rivers “quirk and cool” without mentioning the Donora Smog Museum. The volunteer-run museum commemorates the 1948 smog event that blanketed the town in a toxic wall of smog that killed and sickened community members and was an impetus for creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The museum also pays tribute to local community life. It’s well worth the stop.

We’ve covered only some of the many “quirky, crunchy, cool” spots along the Mon River. Please tell us what we missed in the comments section below.

Morgantown Area Paddlers

Want to know more about Morgantown Area Paddlers (MAP)?!

MAP is a flat-water paddling group focused on promoting and developing social, relaxed kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding in the Morgantown area. As of May 17th, 2016 there are 173 members, with 15 of them having joined just in the last month. In other exciting news the group, through local businesses, organizations, and grants, raised over $38,000 to put towards a new kayak launch. The new launch will provide a safe way to enter, avoiding slipping and bobbing when getting in or out of your boat. It also avoids the deep muck along the river’s edge. You can look for this new boat launch to be installed at the Van Voorhis Trailhead of the Mon River Rail Trail and Water Trail. Be sure to come out and join the Morgantown Area Paddlers on their paddling trips or other outings. Upcoming events can be found on their Facebook page.

Mon River Town’s Bald Eagle Photo Instagram Photo Contest: Official Rules

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.

Dates

Mon River Towns will begin gathering entries on December 4th 2017, continuing weekly, and will complete the contest on a date that’s TBD. The contest end date will be announced once decided. Entries are encouraged immediately.

Eligibility

The promotion is open to any legal U.S. residents residing in any of the 50 United States, who are 18 years of age or older.

How to Enter

To enter the contest, post a photo of the area’s bald eagles using the hashtag #RTPEagleSearch2017 on Instagram. Submissions will be gathered weekly and submitted to a judging committee. In the event of a dispute regarding the identity of the person submitting an entry, the entry will be deemed submitted by the person in whose name the account is registered.

Winning and Notification

Once a winner is selected by committee, you will receive a comment on your photo asking for you to email your contact information for your prize to be sent. Contact information must be obtained within one week of comment, or before the next round of submissions are collected to receive prize. By participating in this promotion, account holder certifies that his/her post is original, has not been previously published or won any other promotion, and does not contain any material that would violate or infringe on the rights of any third party, including copyrights, trademarks, or rights of privacy/publicity.

Prize

Each weekly prize winner will receive one $25 gift card to a local restaurant. The value of the prize may be taxable as income and winners are solely responsible for any taxes on the prize, including, but not limited to all applicable federal, state and local taxes if applicable. If the restaurant closes, sponsor has no responsibility to provide a new prize.

Privacy Statement

Entering the promotion constitutes permission for the sponsor and its agencies to use participants’ Instagram post, captions, any accompanying materials, and names (first name and last initial) for the purpose of advertising or promotion via consumer newsletter and social media channels (Instagram/Twitter/Facebook/Google+/Pinterest) without compensation, unless prohibited by law. Should the company choose to use this content for promotional purposes, entrant is not entitled to compensation or credit. Sponsor holds the right to use all entries for marketing purposes.

Additional Rules

Disruption of nests, harm to animals, and altering environments in any way is strictly prohibited. Do not trespass on private property and be respectful at all times of property, leaving no trash behind. It is essential that these beautiful birds not be stressed or disturbed so please follow the recommendations for viewing outlined below. When viewing bald eagles, Pennsylvania Game Commission asks that people:

  • Keep at least 1000 feet from an active nest, roost or feeding area. Use binoculars or a telescope to view the eagles at a distance.
  • Be quiet. If you must talk, whisper.
  • Cover up. Use your vehicle or boat as a blind, as eagles are more alarmed by pedestrians.
  • Avoid sudden movements.
  • Don’t make the birds fly. Flushing an eagle off a nest may expose the eggs or young eaglets to cold or wet weather or a nest predator. It also wastes energy and may cause them to leave a valuable meal behind or abandon a nest that they are constructing.
  • Respect the privacy of the landowner.

Prickett’s Fort: A Historic Area Worth Visiting

Visitors to Pricketts Fort

Located in West Virginia and set along the Monongahela River, the town of Fairmont is a delightful place to visit. The historic area boasts several claims to fame – for example, it’s the home of the first Pepperoni Roll, as well as the site of the first Father’s Day. It’s also a fantastic place to visit for nature and outdoor activity lovers. But it’s the history of the surrounding area that really makes it a must-see spot. And history lovers will definitely want to visit Fairmont’s museums, as well as Pricketts Fort State Park – and, within it, Pricketts Fort.

About The Site

Prickett’s Fort State Park, located five miles north of Fairmont in Marion County, features a reconstruction of Prickett’s Fort – a structure built in the 1700s that served as a place of refuge during colonial times. Spread over 188-acres, the original Prickett’s Fort was never actually attacked. However, it provided shelter to as many as eighty families during times of crisis. At the time, as settlers and Native Americans tried to navigate the land and relationships of the American Revolution, families living off the land could potentially end up in the crossfire – but could flee to places such as Prickett’s Fort for safety.

Unfortunately, it’s believed that the original fort was destroyed by railroad construction in the early 1900s. However, the importance of the fort eventually led to a historical reconstruction. Now, according to their website, “Prickett’s Fort State Park is popular with history and nature lovers, alike. The park offers guided tours, specialized talks, gallery exhibits and craft demonstrations. Interpreters in period-accurate costumes recreate late 18th century life with demonstrations of colonial crafts such as basketry, blacksmithing, and pottery.”

If you’re hungry for more information after your visit, you can even drive to the Job Prickett House, built in 1859 by a great-grandson of Jacob Prickett. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and contains antiques originally used by the Prickett family, helping to further tell the story of the people who once relied on the fort and surrounding land to survive.

More Than A Historic Area

As hinted by the website quote earlier, Prickett’s Fort State Park is home to more than a fort. In fact, most of the park is free to charge to see and explore – the fort is one of the few exceptions. And weather and hours permitting, visitors can enjoy biking, boating, fishing, and hiking. An outdoor amphitheater and picnic areas can also be found in the park. By the way, don’t worry about bringing a bike with you if it would be too much work. You can rent them from the visitor center when you arrive!

With these activities on top of its historic sites and local businesses, beautiful Prickett’s Fort State Park and the town of Fairmont are both well worth visiting and supporting.

Ready to plan a trip to Fairmont? In addition to Googling local activities, you can visit our website calendar to see upcoming activities in this lovely Mon River Town.

The Edward G. Acheson House: A Historic Home In A Historic Area

The town of Monongahela is a charming but underappreciated historic area. Known locally as Mon City, Monongahela is the oldest settlement in the Monongahela Valley.

Its history includes development as a transportation center supporting thousands of river journeys to the west; it was the location of a meeting of 226 whiskey rebels during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794; and it’s filled with historical buildings that housed important people and even supported the Underground Railroad.

One such historical building is the Edward G. Acheson House, built in the 1800s and recognized as a National Landmark since 1976. This house belonged to an incredible inventor, born and raised in the local area. It’s his story that makes the Edward G. Acheson House so special.

About The Home

Located at 908 Main St., the Edward G. Acheson House is a 2-and-a-half story brick building that actually looks quite average. It’s exact date of construction is not known, although its style indicates the 1870s. And incredibly, that’s really all that can be said about the building itself, which was built in a very plain style. However, while the house itself appears quite ordinary, its inhabitant from 1890 and 1895 was anything but.

About The Man

Inventor Edward G. Acheson was the man who truly made this house special. Acheson was from nearby Washington, PA., born into a family of coal miners. Self-educated and motivated, Acheson worked on projects of his own invention from a young age, which eventually led to him working his way into a laboratory job with Thomas Edison in 1880.

It was 10 years later that he came to Monongahela, working for a local utility company and continuing his own experiments in his new home. Mon City locals will tell you that these experiments took place in a kitchen built into the back of the house, although no official documentation can confirm this.

Wherever they took place, his experiments eventually led to the invention of Silicon carbide (SiC), also known as carborundum – a material that has almost countless uses in structural materials, electrical systems, automobile parts. jewelry, and more. Acheson didn’t stop there. In 1894, he established the Carborundum Company in Monongahela City to produce grinding wheels, whetstones, knife sharpeners, and powdered abrasives.
Eventually, after five years in the Monongahela town, Acheson moved on to continue his work in Niagara Falls, New York, where he could produce his invention on a larger scale in a local power station. In fact, Acheson’s electrochemical company was among the first to come to Niagara Falls, and the power of its electric furnace allowed him to produce artificial graphite – just another notch under his incredibly inventor’s belt.

Acheson’s self-driven life as an inventor cannot be understated and deserves high praise. So important was his work that many of his original companies live on today, often as subsidiaries of various corporations. And fortunately for us, the house remained in place for 81 years after his departure, long enough for it to be recognized as a National Landmark in 1976.

About The Town

Today the house is just a small part of the beautiful and historic area of Monongahela. From its historical buildings, to the Monongahela Aquatorium, to summertime markets, to beautiful trails and access to the Mon River, the town is a wonderful place to visit. History lovers and paddlers alike should add it to their destination list – after all, it isn’t often that one of the best places to kayak is stuffed full of other activities to boot!

An afternoon of antiquing in the Mon Valley

The Mon Valley, the scenic area of Washington, Fayette, and Greene counties along the Monongahela River, is becoming well known for its enticing outdoor recreation — biking, hiking, boating, kayaking and fishing. But it also offers plenty of opportunities for a beloved indoor sport: shopping.

Clusters of antique stores and curiosity shops are located in towns along the river, selling everything from vintage bowling shirts to repurposed farming implements perfect for decorating a country kitchen. You’ll find furniture you remember from Thanksgiving at Grandma’s and toys you remember from Christmases gone by. Visit one of these shops on a Saturday afternoon and you may very well find an item you didn’t even know you needed.

Tim’s Secret Treasures in Charleroi
Tim’s Secret Treasures in Charleroi

Unlike clicking through images on Amazon or falling in step with throngs of strangers at the mall, a trip to towns like Monongahela, New Eagle or Charleroi provides a relaxing and immersive experience, often starring a one-of-a-kind proprietor.

One such proprietor is Tim Bradburn. You’ll find his shop Tim’s Secret Treasures at 220 McKean Avenue in Charleroi. In fact, you won’t be able to miss it: It is the only spot in town flanked by a pair of giant roosters, a sizable steer, and a larger than life gorilla. And if you think the exterior of the store is a bit quirky, just wait till you go inside. Part museum, part fun house, it’s a unique experience.

The original building housing Tim’s was purchased by Bradburn and his wife, Rhonda Jaquay, about 10 years ago. Later, they bought the adjoining building and combined them into one large structure to hold their ever growing collections. Over the years, items from the shop — such as a World War II airplane propeller — have been used as props in Hollywood movies. Merchandise ranges from huge buffalo heads to Civil War uniforms, from porcelain dolls to vintage neon beer signs; all share space in the overflowing rooms of what was once a 19th century funeral home.

That deathly past — and rumors of the building being haunted — has led to visits from television’s Ghost Hunters and inspired a popular Halloween “Fright Fest” held every year. Attendees can purchase personal psychic readings performed in the cavernous upstairs rooms. Bradburn, who still works as a corporate accountant, and Jaquay donate all profits from the celebration to the Washington County food bank.

Main Street Antiques in Monongahela
Main Street Antiques in Monongahela

“About 80 percent of my business comes from out of state,” says Bradburn. “Others are Pennsylvania travelers, and I do get some dealers as well. None of my inventory is on consignment, so I know the history of what I sell.”

You can also learn the history of the items sold by Bobby Gilotty of Main Street Antiquesin Monongahela. Gilotty’s mother Inez opened her store over 25 years ago. Bobby is now the face of the business, greeting shoppers and answering questions about the merchandise and the shop. The 12-room Victorian house — purchased by Inez in 1991 — houses seven different antique dealers, each with their own section of eclectic merchandise. Many of the dealers have been there since it opened.

Main Street Antiques in Monongahela
Main Street Antiques in Monongahela

“We are all like family,” says Gilotty, who credits the continued success of the business to the many events held in Monongahela throughout the year which bring out-of-towners to the business district.

Red Boot Antiques in Monongahela

In addition to the town’s Riverfest celebration, Community Days and popular Ghost Walk, Monongahela holds a twice yearly “Fleatique”: a 2.5-mile upscale yard sale featuring food vendors, crafters, entertainment, and participation by the area’s antique stores. Held on the first Saturday of June and October every year since 1999, the next Fleatique, sponsored by the Monongahela and New Eagle Chambers of Commerce, is scheduled for October 7, 2017, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Information about events held throughout the Mon Valley can be found on the Mon River Towns Events Calendar.

Marcia Homa, proprietor of Red Boot Antiques just up the road at 905 W. Main, also takes part in the Fleatique. Homa has been in the antique business for over 12 years, and in her current location for eight. Twenty years ago, a former client — and shoe repairman — gave Homa a unique boot-shaped sign which she later used as inspiration for the name of her charming, well-kept shop. From a large collection of Longaberger baskets, vintage toys and games, to stunning 19th century farm tables, Homa has a little bit of everything. Asked about the strangest thing she ever sold, Homa recalls a “giant fire extinguisher” which she purchased mainly to draw interest from the street. Turns out, for one shopper, it was a must have. 

Red Boot Antiques in Monongahela

The Mon Valley is an easy drive from Pittsburgh — simply follow Route 88 South or, for a faster trip, hit the Route 43 Turnpike extender and take Exit 39 for Charleroi/Donora. The road splits as you enter Charleroi, so follow signs for the Business District. The town retains its industrial feel. In fact, manufacturing remains active; one example is Channelcraft, a large manufacturer of authentic, non-electronic American toys, games and puzzles. Head to McKean Avenue, Charleroi’s primary business corridor, and soon you will see the roosters of Tim’s Secret Treasures on your right.

Queen Anne’s Lace in New Eagle

When you have finished exploring Tim’s, continue north on McKean toward Monongahela, a straight shot of about 5.5 miles on Route 88. Follow West Main through town and you will reach Main Street Antiques on your left, followed by Red Boot Antiques on your right. Go a little further and you will enter the small neighboring town of New Eagle. Yesterday’s Best, an antique and consignment shop, and Queen Anne’s Lace, which carries antique and vintage home décor, are almost directly across the street from each other on Main Street.

If you want to get a little new to mix in with your old, you can slow down a bit in downtown Monongahela. Stop in at CJ’s Furniture at 142 W. Main Street, which offers new and contemporary furniture in an impressive older building, complete with tiled entry and a restored tin ceiling. Just a few doors down at 168 W. Main Street is newly opened boutiqueUncommonly Bella, which carries one-of-a-kind vintage clothing, handmade soaps, unique gifts, and outfits for children.

Of course, after a hard day of shopping, you need to refuel. The Twist, located at 207 Main Street in New Eagle, is an old fashioned ice cream parlor and café that has been in business since 1957. They serve a breakfast and lunch menu (many dishes are topped with local favorite Cinco de Mayo Salsa) along with cold, creamy treats.

The Twist in New Eagle

Along with their unique and quirky merchandise, some of these shops and eateries have quirky hours of operation. Not all locations are open Sunday, most are closed Monday, and some do not have Tuesday hours either. A few have hours that change with the seasons. Check out their Facebook pages for hours and contact information. Saturday is the safest bet to visit to find all spots open. And who would want to miss a single one?




WENDY DUCHENE is an attorney with offices in Allegheny and Somerset Counties. She is also an avid user of the many hiking and biking trails in western PA, where she can often be found on her recumbent bike or walking her dog Sander.

Images by Wendy Duchene.

This story was created in partnership with the Keystone Edge

Women hit the trails in western Pennsylvania

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride,” said President John F. Kennedy.

Susan B. Anthony said of cycling, “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

But a recent People for Bikes Survey found that of the over 100 million American adults who own bicycles, few make riding a regular activity. The number one impediment? Fear of automotive traffic. Among women, the next biggest fear is being attacked by a stranger. And while the gender gap in bike riding is shrinking, these fears still keep too many women from putting on their helmets and heading out on two wheels.

Photo courtesy of Pam Metzger

If you own a bike in western Pennsylvania, those excuses just won’t cut it anymore. The region is blessed with hundreds of miles of non-motorized, recreational bike paths, including plenty of flat rail trails. All a local woman needs to vanquish her fears is a bike, a helmet, and a friend to bring along.

Whether you’re traveling the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland, or the Montour Trail — spanning 46 miles from Coraopolis to Clairton — or smaller trails such as the Greene River Trail along the Monongahela River or Fayette County’s fledgling Sheepskin Trail, you can’t help but notice women of all ages riding together.

They ride for the physical benefits — cardiovascular fitness, increased muscle strength and improved joint mobility — but they also ride for more intangible reasons. Biking in nature has been found to offer stress relief, reduce anxiety and improve mood. Studies demonstrate that time spent outdoors has health benefits. Often called “Nature Therapy,” it is readily available at virtually no cost.

Of course, it is also a way to have fun.

“It’s a great experience with the other women – sharing, learning about each other, laughing, eating, drinking. What unites us is our shared joy in biking and being outdoors.” – Kay Owen

On a recent weekend, a group of Pennsylvanians hit the trail. Made up of women from different backgrounds and of different ages, the squad started four years ago with a simple question posed by Toni Henry, 66, of East Brady: “Want to go on a bike ride?”

“One of my friends was turning 60 and I thought it would be fun to plan an outdoor outing to celebrate,” recalls Henry. “The first trip was about a dozen ladies. We had so much fun, we decided to repeat it the next year. We started inviting others.”

McCollom and her biking friends take a break / Photo courtesy of Peg Seidel

The women in the loosely organized group — some have been riding since they were children, some are new to biking — now plan one or two large weekend group rides per year. Most have also become regular riders. They meet each other one-on-one or in small groups for day rides on local trails.

Kay Owen, 63 from Templeton, has attended three of the annual trips.

“It’s a great experience with the other women – sharing, learning about each other, laughing, eating, drinking,” she says. “What unites us is our shared joy in biking and being outdoors. I enjoy the connectedness but the separateness, too. We have the freedom to enjoy the time at our own speed. Some like to ride hard and fast, some like a more leisurely pace.”

Carla Morris, 57, of Grove City, joined the ride for the first time this year.

“There is nothing like the companionship of a group of women who are self sufficient,” she explains. “I felt fully accepted with no judgments, lots of helpful encouragements and camaraderie. I never thought of myself as a group kind of gal. These women changed my mind about that.”

It was also Cathy McCollom’s first time with the group. McCollom, 62, of Confluence, echoes Morris’s sentiment.

“I watched four women putting their bikes on a bike rack in the rain,” she recalls. “Each had a different way of approaching it, but they worked together until they got it done. There was no arguing. No one tried to give orders or take over. Not sure you would have seen that sort of cooperation if this had been a co-ed trip.”

A stop along the way / Photo courtesy of Pam Metzger

McCollom, who leads the River Town Program in the Monongahela Valley, sees increasing numbers of women on trails along the river and throughout Greene, Westmoreland, Fayette and Washington Counties. She hopes that trend continues.

“Trails bring economic opportunity to the towns they pass and raise the quality of life for residents and visitors alike,” she says. “We are lucky to have so many trails to choose from.”

One example is the Greene River Rail-Trail along the Mon River which starts in Millsboro. With trailhead parking at the Greene Cove Yacht Club, this picturesque 5.2-mile course winds along Ten Mile Creek and the west bank of the river. Riders of all skill levels can enjoy a level, shaded and well-maintained 12-foot wide path with views of the water as they cruise into Crucible. The trail is expanding to include nine more miles into Nemacolin, and there are plans to take it further in the future. Riders can cap their trips with a drink and a meal at the Greene Cove Bar and Grille or drive a few miles to the Riviera Restaurant or other eateries in Fredericktown.

Another option is the Sheepskin Trail in Fayette County. Parking is available along Railroad Street in Dunbar. Currently 2.1 miles long, the trail will, upon completion, stretch 34 miles to connect the Great Allegheny Passage to the Mon River at Point Marion. It is being developed by Fayette County and the National Road Heritage Corridor, and is currently maintained by the Yough River Trail Council.

“Trails bring economic opportunity to the towns they pass and raise the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.” – Cathy McCollom

Along the Dunbar section, riders can view the remnants of the coke ovens which were such a large part of this area’s industrial heyday. Both Dunbar and Connellsville offer options for a hearty meal, including Ed’s Diner in Connellsville and Hutch’s Tap Room in Dunbar.

Helping each other out / Photo courtesy of Pam Metzger

Don’t have a bike or are unsure what equipment you need? BikePGH has a list of resources for rentals, classes, shopping and local riding groups. Maps of Pennsylvania’s extensive bike trail system can be found here. Have nobody to ride with? Local outfitters such as Venture Outdoors offer group cycling trips and Meetup groups such as Bicycling Pittsburgh organize rides on local trails. Women-only bicycle touring groups, including the aptly named Womantours, offer all-inclusive trips for novice riders; adventure travel companies such as Sojourn offer women-only tours in the U.S. and abroad.

Asked for advice on a woman starting to bike at mid-life, Morris was direct.

“You start by starting,” she says. “It is no different than starting anything else, at any age. Start solo, enlist a friend or find a group and then go do it.”

Owen echoes her new friend.

“Accept where you are in terms of your conditioning and start from there,” she adds. “You do not have to be an athlete to enjoy biking.”

Sarah Heppenstall, a retired Presbyterian minister from the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh came to biking later in her life. Riding with women who love the outdoors and are “diverse, intelligent and supportive” is what she finds the most rewarding part of her time on two wheels.

Now, call a friend, put on your helmets and ride!

 


 

WENDY DUCHENE is an attorney with offices in Allegheny and Somerset Counties. She is also an avid user of the many hiking and biking trails in western PA, where she can often be found on her recumbent bike or walking her dog Sander.

Lead image by Jim Cheney, uncoveringPA.com 

This story was created in partnership with the Keystone Edge.

A paddlers paradise on the Mon River

If you’ve already explored the shores of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh in your bright new kayak — with the city’s high rises and urban cacophony rising around you — you might be itching to encounter a more bucolic setting. Just take a short 34-mile trip south and you’ll be exactly where you want to be.

The section of the Monongahela River southeast of Pittsburgh is fast becoming a paddler’s dream. Affectionately referred to as “The Mon,” the river winds its way through a beautiful valley, offering a look into Pennsylvania’s heritage along with stunning views.

Still a corridor for industrial barges as well as recreational boaters, the river is controlled by several locks and dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, forming “pools” of different sizes. Paddlers need to know where those pools are located to make the most of their trip and avoid the complications of “locking through” the dams.

Point Marion, a town along the banks of one such pool — between the Grey’s Landing Dam at Mile 80 and the Point Marion Dam at Mile 90.8 — provides a perfect spot to launch a day trip for both experienced and novice paddlers. It is also the place where the Mon and Cheat Rivers flow together.

A “small town with a big heart,” Point Marion offers both outdoor recreation and a bit of American history. Currently, visitors need to bring their own boats, but an outfitter, Mon River Recreation, plans to open for business in June 2017. Kayaks will be available for rent by appointment and will be supplied at Point Marion Community Park (call 724-320-2182 for details.)

A well maintained green space accessible from South Main Street, the park has ample parking. It’s also a great place to relax and enjoy a snack — and let the kids burn off some energy — before launching your kayaks or canoes. (Note: You need a permit to launch into the Mon; information is available on the Fish & Boat Commission website or by calling 1-866-262-8734.) Paddlers will find a well-maintained boat ramp and public docks. You’ll have a great day paddling from Point Marion to another small Mon River Town, Greensboro, before arriving at the next dam.

A Paddling Itinerary

Here are some tips for making that adventure fun and easy.

For an relaxing day trip or a peaceful weekend getaway, travel to Greensboro in two cars and leave one car there. Drive the car with your boats from Greensboro to Point Marion, an easy six-mile jaunt south following the river on State Route 88.

Dunkard Creek / photo: Morgantown Area Paddlers

Remember that the Mon flows north, so paddlers starting in Point Marion should head downriver; navigation charts can be found here. Approximately three hours of leisurely boating with the current will bring you to picturesque Greensboro, depending on your speed and how often you stop to take in the sights. You can also take a side trip up Dunkard Creek — if you’re fishing on your kayak trip, the Creek comes highly recommended by anglers.

The Morgantown Area Paddlers followed this itinerary on a recent group trip.

Greensboro Docks / photo: Morgantown Area Paddlers

“Wow, it was a great day on the water,” recalls Mary Wimmer, the group’s founder. “It’s an excellent place to flat water paddle. And it is an easy straight shuttle between the two towns for cars.”

Traveling gently on one of the loveliest and most unspoiled sections of the Mon, it’s easy to forget that the river is still an avenue for commercial barge traffic. Paddlers should stay fairly close to the shoreline to avoid any unfortunate encounters. While it is exciting to watch a loaded barge pass by, it is far too exciting to scramble out of the way.

Once you reach Greensboro, exit the river at the access area and tie up at the public docks. You can enjoy a picnic at the hilltop gazebo, a 50-foot structure with a great view of the Mon River. Be aware that the docks and the gazebo are separated by a private residence so be respectful and avoid trespassing.

Historic Greensboro

From Greensboro, you can drive back, retrieve the Point Marion car and head home or, better yet, spend the night riverside at The Captain’s Watch Inn. The building features seven beautifully appointed guest rooms with private baths, and offers breakfasts and candle lit dinners — along with canoes and bicycles — to guests.

Greensboro’s 1.25 mile Walking and Biking Trail offers a chance to get your land legs back after your trip. Meanwhile, a stroll through town reveals a lovely historic district and a restored log cabin selling reproduction Greensboro pottery. If you want a longer hike, the 67-mile Warrior Trail begins in Greensboro, follows ridge tops for most of its length and offers some of the most spectacular views in Greene County.

Food and Drink

When starting your trip in Point Marion, you will find a mix of amenities on and off Main Street. A regional favorite for meals or sweet treats baked on site is Apple Annie’s (open Tuesday through Saturday) on Church Street. A short .75 mile trip north on Route 88 gets you to Two Rivers Marina and Campground which boasts a great Italian Restaurant, craft beers on tap and camping. (Call 724-943-4997 for information and reservations.) Or start off with a big breakfast and friendly service at the family-owned and operated Riverside Diner (120 Penn Street).

Fisherman can purchase live bait at Point Marion Hardware (126 Penn Street). There is also a state store if you want a libation for after your trip. Remember boating and drinking do not mix! In addition, the town boasts a Shop ‘N Save Express and a Family Dollar if you just want to fill a cooler with snacks and cold drinks.

Side Trip into History

In addition to your time on the water, history buffs can enjoy heritage sites like nearby Friendship Hill National Historic Site, located 3.5 miles north of Point Marion. The park includes the home of Albert Gallatin, the longest serving U.S. Secretary of State, who financed the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. The Gallatin House is a designated National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Allow an hour to tour the home, and then explore the nearly ten miles of trails that wind through the grounds and down to the Monongahela. A picnic area and comfort station are adjacent to the parking lot. Entry is free and the grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset year-round.

Upcoming Events

If you are looking for a little excitement to go with your paddling trip, you can head to Point Marion over Memorial Day Weekend for the annual Albert Gallatin River Festival. The festival includes a 5K Race, fireworks, food, a carnival, a car show and more. More information on the festival and registration for the 5K Race can be found here.

Or plan to paddle to Greensboro on September 2 for the annual Art Blast on the Mon, a festival featuring live music, food and more.

Point Marion is currently working on turning an old rail bed into the latest section of the Sheepskin Trail, a bike path that will connect Point Marion Park to the existing 48 mile Mon River Trail. Eventually, this route will also connect to the existing Sheepskin Trail in northern Fayette County and link to the Great Allegheny Passage.

Completion of the land trail will give you another reason to return to this lovely section of Pennsylvania with your bikes. For now, grab your paddles and hit the water.

 


 

WENDY DUCHENE is an attorney with offices in Allegheny and Somerset Counties. She is also an avid user of the many hiking and biking trails in western PA, where she can often be found on her recumbent bike or walking her dog Sander.

This story was created in partnership with the Keystone Edge.

Lead photo: Morgantown Area Paddlers

Fall is the perfect time for fishing on the Mon River

We’ve all seen images of grizzled fly fisherman standing in a misty morning river or gap-toothed kids on docks holding up their catch of the day. But fishing is not just a way to while away one’s retirement or pass a childhood afternoon — it’s the third most popular outdoor recreation activity in the U.S., right behind biking and running. It’s also big business in Western Pennsylvania.

Talk to a local fisherman and it’s easy to see why. Chris Toth has been fishing the tributaries of the Monongahela River every day for close to 30 years and calls these waters the “hidden jewel of Western Pennsylvania.” The avid angler stops his truck wherever he sees a creek from the road, wading in for a spell on his way to and from work as a coal miner. He says fishing doesn’t have to be hard and it doesn’t have to be expensive — he builds his own rods and keeps artificial lures in his truck. That way, he can fish whenever the mood strikes.

“I can stand in ankle deep water and catch quality fish,” he says, mentioning a recently nabbed nine-pound Walleye. “People think they have to travel to Erie or go east to get great fishing in Pennsylvania, but it is right here in their backyard.”

Chris Toth

Toth credits the improved water quality of the Mon. The settling ponds and water treatment used by area mines — along with the development of modern sewage treatment plants in riverside communities — has resulted in clean water that supports a wide variety of fish. As the water has improved, more people are fishing, swimming and boating.

Rick Spear of the Department of Environmental Protection(DEP) has also witnessed the change. A marine biologist with the DEP for 14 years, Spear is a Fish and Mussel expert. He explains that the Clean Water Act of 1972 got the ball rolling, “making communities and individuals responsible for what got discharged into waterways.” In the 1970s, the Mon River could only support three species of fish: bluegill, catfish, and carp.

“The Mon now has upwards of 50 species, and they are flourishing,” he adds. “Kayak and canoe rentals in Pittsburgh have grown exponentially as the water has become cleaner and more pleasant to fish and boat in.”

Existing marinas and newly constructed launches make it easy to put a boat into the Mon or Ten Mile Creek, but the area still lacks an outfitter to rent kayaks and canoes or sell fishing gear. Spear believes there is a market for that sort of business.

“People think they have to travel to Erie or go east to get great fishing in Pennsylvania, but it is right here in their backyard.” – Chris Toth

One group helping to grow the sector is the Marianna Outdoorsmen’s Association (MOA) in Washington County. The Association sponsors events such as the “Fall Costume Canoe Race” (happening October 8 in Clarksville on Ten Mile Creek). Their annual Spring Canoe Race launched in 2007 with 17 boats. In 2016, 209 boats competed and over 3000 people attended. For 2017, the event has been expanded to two days and dubbed “Outdoor Fest.” It will feature musical entertainment and vendors in addition to the Saturday race. Proceeds and membership fees will support the Association’s educational work, its trout stocking programs and fishing events for veterans, such as one on October 15 with Project Healing Waters.

The Marianna Outdoorsmen’s Association

Started in 2006 by Jason White and Josh Stepp, MOA promotes fishing as both outdoor recreation and an educational opportunity. An avid fisherman since childhood, White says their work in Washington and Greene counties maximizes the region’s major asset — the Mon River — and improves the life of area residents.

“Fishing is a great activity for kids,” he says. “It gets them into the outdoors to learn about nature and the environment in a positive and fun way. A kid that looks forward to going fishing after school with friends is less likely to turn to drugs and other negative pursuits.”

MOA partners with county and state agencies, local Chambers of Commerce, and organizations like the Mon River Town Coalition to raise awareness of the area’s assets and get courses into local school curricula. Working with MOA, Beth Center School District in Fredericktown has successfully instituted the Fish Commission’s recreational courses into the school day.

The annual Spring Canoe Race

It’s working: The sport’s popularity is increasing along with the variety of fish that are biting.

“Fishing is like returning to the days of being a hunter/gatherer,” explains Pittsburgh attorney Bob Koehler, who stayed away from fishing the Mon when it yielded only carp and catfish. But when the Bass Master Classic came to Pittsburgh in 2005, he knew the river had come back to life. He got his fishing gear out of storage.

According to Toth, now is the perfect season to drop a line.

“September and October are a great time to be out on the water,” he says. “The fish are fattening up for winter and eager to bite. Everyone’s preparing for hunting season so I often have the creek to myself. It’s just great fishing. Not to mention, it’s beautiful.”

So if you’re driving through Western PA, watching the leaves turn, and you see a pickup pulled over on the shoulder by a close-running creek, you may have just found Chris Toth at one of his secret spots. Grab a pole and join him.

This story was created in partnership with the Keystone Edge.

Fredericktown, PA: Luring boaters and landlubbers alike to the banks of the Mon

Jimmy Buffet sings about the carefree life of the Florida Keys, but he would feel just as at home on the laid-back western shore of the Monongahela River in Fredericktown. From the funky décor and cold beverages at the Riviera Restaurant to the quirky roadside landmarks courtesy of Rudy Fabricating and Machine, this Pennsylvania hamlet invites you to kick back and enjoy its unique charms.

The Washington County town is located seven miles south on Route 88 from the Fredericktown exit off Route 43 out of Pittsburgh. As you enter, catch a glimpse of colorful pleasure boats on the river, blue metal fish flying on the roadside, or the giant white chicken on the roof of the famous Fredericktown Butcher Shop.

Populated by only about 400 people year round, Fredericktown has become a hotbed for recreation-seekers. Just ask Dennis Slagle, head of the local chamber of commerce. He calls Fredericktown, “headquarters for fun and sun on the Mon.” Rarely seen without a smile on his face, Slagle also is spokesman for the Maxwell Basin Recreational Area — 20 uninterrupted miles of prime boating on the river bordered by the Maxwell Lock and Dam. 

Dennis Slagle on the Mon

Add that to the five local marinas and newly renovated Ten Mile Creek County Park, and there are plenty of places to launch a boat, pontoon, jet ski, canoe or kayak. (Check with Washington County Parks for information on permitting details.) With all that open water, it often feels like you have the river to yourself, even on a sunny summer day.

“Other people go on vacation just to be in a place like this for a few days,” says Slagle, who has had a Fredericktown address his whole life. “I get to call it home.”

Slagle’s daughter-in-law, Chelsea Slagle, feels the same way. Though she works in Morgantown, West Virginia, a 55-minute daily commute, she would never leave.

Greene Cove Yacht Club

“Why would I want to live anywhere else?” she asks, gesturing over the sunset-lit water on a summer evening. “Look at this place!”

Judging by the lively summertime crowd at the Greene Cove Yacht Club’s restaurant, Chelsea is not alone in that sentiment. Bar Manager Becca Gutosky was busy serving up cold beers and tropical drinks to regulars coming in from a day on the water. Greene Cove has over 200 slips for rent, with very few going empty. Above the marina sits a private permanent “campground,” a hidden summer enclave where the transportation of choice is a golf cart.

Becca Gutosky, bar manager at Greene Cove Yacht Club

The adjacent Ten Mile Creek feeds into the Mon. Significantly longer than ten miles, the waterway was named for being ten miles south of Brownsville…or maybe after a Lieutenant Tenmile who surveyed the area for George Washington’s army. It depends on who’s telling the story. The creek is a “no wake zone,” making it peaceful for pleasure boaters, canoes, kayakers and fisherman. Crafts can easily launch from Ten Mile Creek County Park. Pavilions can be rented for picnics and events, and park visitors are welcome to bring well-behaved dogs.

Slagle has always loved to fish, but he only recently bought a boat and began casting a line locally. Angling is becoming more and more popular here, even spawning a night-time crossbow fishing charter. Slagle’s wife, Lynn, noted that now that the Mon and Ten Mile are healthy again for fish, the water is also safe for swimming.

“Families go out on the river in pontoon boats with floats and picnic supplies for the day and take dips from their boats,” she says.

As peaceful as it is most days, there are times when Ten Mile Creek transforms into a floating party. The five marinas — Greene Cove, Engle’s Holiday Harbor, Sunset Marina, 10 Mile Yacht Club and Greenwood Marina — plan a number of events throughout the season that bring hundreds of revelers to Fredericktown, for example the upcoming “Halloween Canoe Race” from Clarksville to Greene Cove.

“Other people go on vacation just to be in a place like this for a few days. I get to call it home.” – Dennis Slagle

This is a second life for the waterway. Along the shores of the Maxwell Basin pool, boaters pass charming cottages along with vestiges of the mining industry. Abandoned coal tipples and barge pilings rise up occasionally from the now-sparkling water, an impressive reminder of when coal was king.

Old coal infrastructure on the Mon

And it is not only echoes of industry: Pleasure boaters share the wide Mon with massive coal barges that occasionally glide by.

“Even with a couple hundred boats tied at the pilings during the musical event ‘Rockin’ on the Mon,’ there is more than enough room for the barges to get by,” insists Slagle.

Another favorite destination for boaters and landlubbers alike is John Shaw’s Riviera Restaurant, a mostly outdoor lounge where flip-flops are the shoes of choice. Bartenders Paige Butka and Natasha Sigwalt sling drinks behind the bar, sharing their view of the river with patrons who pour in off the water and the roadway. The patio’s view becomes even more spectacular when Fredericktown sponsors fireworks, launched from the opposite shore.

For those who prefer their recreation on land, the recently extended 6.8 mile Greene River Trail trailhead originates at Greene Cove. The trail follows the creek then runs along the Mon on an abandoned railroad bed through a stretch of scenic woodland. The route affords sweeping views of the water as you walk or bike through Rices Landing and pass its historic W.A. Young & Sons Foundry.

The Mon River

A visit to Fredericktown isn’t really complete without a visit to the Fredericktown Butcher Shop and its giant rooftop chicken. In addition to the fresh hand-cut meats (at amazingly low prices), they offer all the basic necessities for a day on the river. Stepping through the doors is like going back in time.

A little further down Front Street, The Riverside Inn, a restored hotel, offers a quiet spot for food, drinks and lodging.

Looking to plan a visit? Events are scheduled throughout the season: August will see the popular Ribfest at the Riviera, a golf outing and the Fourth Annual Clarksville Festival. September’s “Party on the Point” at the Greene Cove Yacht Club includes an open Corn Hole tournament with slots for 64 two-person teams. The season culminates with October’s Halloween events. (For more information, check out the Mon River Coalition’s event calendar.)

The famous chicken

So how did this little riverside town become such a hot spot? Slagle, the Riviera’s Shaw and Morgan Boyle of Greene Cove met in 2010 to talk about planning events and bringing businesses to Fredericktown. Then Slagle saw an article about The River Town Program.

“I called Cathy right away,” says Slagle, referring to program director Cathy McCollom. “Fredericktown was on board. We were one of the first Mon River Towns to join the Mon River Valley Coalition. The program helped us with marketing so people can hear about our events, and with signage so they can find them once they get here.”

It’s pretty easy to see why the locals don’t want to leave and why visitors keep coming back. The town’s neighborly feeling is infectious. People here on the water are relaxed. They say hello. They smile. Next time Jimmy Buffett wants a “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” tell him to float up to Fredericktown.

 


 

WENDY DUCHENE is an attorney with offices in Allegheny and Somerset Counties. She is also an avid user of the many hiking and biking trails in western PA, where she can often be found on her recumbent bike or walking her dog Sander.

This story was created in partnership with the Keystone Edge.