Fishing on the Mon

It was great opening day on Pigeon Creek.

What opening day?

Of trout season.

On Pigeon Creek in Monongahela?

Yep.

Pigeon Creek hadn’t been stocked with trout by the State of Pennsylvania, or anyone else, for years. But, on April 9, the Valley Inn Sportsmen Association , and their business community sponsors, stocked trout, up to 20′ in length, in Pigeon Creek from Peno’s Plaza along Rt 481 to the I 43 bridge on Bentleyville Rd. I hadn’t been able to attend the stocking but I figured that if I drove along Park Ave. it wouldn’t be hard to tell where the fish ( & anglers ) were. Sure enough, every place where there was parking & access from the road, there were clusters of cars & anglers. Talked to several. They ranged from the angler who reported he & his family caught, released & lost several Rainbow Trout (and the baits he was using) to the fellow who said he caught two but didn’t know that much about fish & couldn’t say what kind they were. But they were all having fun. It was a sunny, mild, day in the low 70’s at 10 AM on a Saturday morning & they were out there with their families & friends. Catching fish, or not. Almost didn’t matter. They were doing something they enjoyed with people they cared about.

Thanks to the Valley Inn Sportsmen Association for giving them that opportunity.

The Ospreys on Peters Lake

Today, 4/3, was the best bird (Osprey) watching day I’ve ever had. After seeing a pair at Peters Lake on Sunday and a loner on Monday, I figured that a smart bird was going to be hunkered down in the conifers around the lake. Staying out of the rain. (Yeah, we were out walking it it.) I guess I forgot that if your lifestyle requires diving into the water to eat, being wet is just part of the deal.

We were rounding the bend at the upper (shallower) end of the lake when one barreled in front of us, from right to left, heading down lake. Over  the next few minutes that bird made one dive after another into the water. The most spectacular came after it had spiraled up over treetop height, wheeled around & dropped straight down the elevator shaft into the water. Whoa ! Either that bird was very hungry or he had a nesting mate that was. If it continues to be spending a lot of time fishing then I’m guessing the latter. I couldn’t tell, from across the lake, if it’d been successful. Sooner or later, though, practice will pay.

Next thing, this Great Blue Heron just about flew into my pocket. It came across a small inlet & landed less than 20′ feet away. It seemed to be so focused, staring in the direction of the Osprey, that it never even glanced  at the dog & I very close by. Guessing, again, that an active potential predator or competitor ( for the fish ) just naturally demands it’s full attention.

Have fun out there.

Ken Yonek

Osprey Sightings by a River Town Friend

Before going out to visit family on Easter morning Frodo, our Standard Poodle, & I had our normal walk around a local lake (Peters Lake Park, Nottingham Township, Washington County).

I’d read about the Osprey cam on a nest at Lake Arthur since last week of March but frankly was a bit mystified. At our local lake I hadn’t seen any sign of fish activity at surface or in shallows until about Wednesday last. But the Osprey at Lake Arthur must be able to catch something to eat. In the last two years I’ve first seen Osprey at our lake in early April, so I’ve been on the lookout.

Came around a bend in the road this morning & there it was. Perfect visibility, with the sun to my back. A white head over dark brown shoulders perched on a branch over the water. Beautiful. And as a Cheshire Cat grin spread over my face there was a splash behind me. Looked over my left shoulder just in time to see a second Osprey ( it’s mate I assume) pulling itself out of the water with something in its claw. Not a big something, but something. After a couple of loops & dips around the 1st bird it flew off to another tree. Showing off. ‘ See what I caught’. The 1st bird didn’t look impressed. I have a feeling the female Osprey spends a lot of time watching the male fishing before she’ll set up ‘nest keeping’. Just to be sure that he can bring home the bacon (fish), so to speak.

Last month I saw a solitary Horned Grebe paddling around the same lake. This morning I think I saw 8 of them together. I say ‘think’ because they were in the middle of the pond & I don’t carry field glasses walking the dog. White & black colors showed up clearly although shape was indistinct at that distance. Size was right as well as some mostly white necks. And when a couple of mallards paddled out the difference between the lighter sides of a mallard & the bright white on these birds was stark. So, I’m goin’ with Horned Grebe again.

Have fun out there.

Ken Yonek

The Mon River Towns: A Journey Of Development

The Mon River Towns offer a historic area to visitors wanting to get outdoors.

Picture the Monongahela River. Now picture the towns nestled alongside it. Now ask yourself – are you picturing the towns as they are today? Or as they once were?

Change is constant, especially in this part of the state. If you haven’t visited the towns sitting along the Mon in the last two or three years, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you see the next time you pass through one. Many changes have taken place in these towns, thanks in part to the work by the River Towns Program.

The Mon River Towns offer a historic area to visitors wanting to get outdoors.The Mon River Towns Program works with communities bordering the Monongahela River to highlight Pennsylvania’s growing outdoor recreational market, and to make it easy to help residents and visitors connect with the beautiful river. The Program is presently an initiative of the National Road Heritage Corridor and was launched by the statewide Pennsylvania Environmental Council in 2011.

“These are towns looking at new opportunities,” Cathy McCollom, director of the River Towns Program, says about this region and communities within it. “They were once industrial towns. The Mon was and remains an industrial highway but it is now also a recreational river. With the changing economy, we help communities look at the river in a different way.”

The River Towns Program is dedicated to improving the visitor infrastructure in these towns. The first step in doing so is for community leaders and River Town Program staff to consider how the towns appear to travelers. For example, is there public access to the Mon River for visitors? Are there community parks next to the river or view corridors open to the river? Are there signs to direct traffic, and restaurants for families to enjoy? Are there historic buildings and cultural spots of significance and are they highlighted and accessible to visitors?

Since 2011, questions like these have driven improvements on infrastructure such as launches and docks, public access, signage, and added amenities such as public restrooms, public art and riverfront parks. Most importantly, communities have worked with Program staff to raise over $3 million, not only for these projects but also to market the region.

According to Cathy, “The projects have included canoe and kayak launches, riverfront parks, directional and gateway signage, improved public launches, riverfront landscaping and clearings, and multiple events such as summer riverfront concerts, festivals, and paddling events. With community leadership and organizational partners, we have led riverfront master planning, public art projects, and business attraction workshops – and have offered entrepreneurial business grants to encourage new businesses.”

And these efforts are paying off. Nature lovers – taking advantage of new boat launches and trails – are helping to bring outdoor recreational traffic through these Mon River towns. New businesses have opened in several of the communities. Gateway and directional signage is now more prevalent. Over two dozen pieces of public art have added a layer of beauty to towns and riverfronts. And River Festivals have literally sprung up across the map. At River Town Program’s founding, there were three such festivals in operation – currently, there are twelve!

But while our team can talk about this work all day every day, we truly think it has to be experienced. A visit to a river town during an event or a peaceful weekend of local travel is the best way to highlight local changes, and to experience the history. From green spaces to new businesses to local history spots, there is so much to experience in the Mon River Towns.

Ready to plan a visit? We can help you get started! Our website houses a list of River Towns and even sample itineraries to help you hit the road quickly and easily. Happy travels!

Outdoors in the Mon Valley Region

Hi. My name is Ken Yonek & I’m going to try to start a conversation about some of the birds and natural attractions in the region. Since this region is defined by the meeting of woods, water & field it provides many different habitats to support a variety of creatures.

When it comes to birds I’ll probably be asking more questions than providing answers. I’m a ‘recreational birder’ at best, but I do have a copy of “ Peterson Field Guides , Eastern Birds “ and when I see something new, I want to know what it is. So, let’s start.

On Thursday , 2/22, my dog & I were walking around a familiar lake park when I saw a flash of color to my right just as a pileated woodpecker landed on a tree trunk in full view. It called out  & almost simultaneously I heard an answering call from my left. That second call was so sudden & unexpected that I wasn’t sure I’d really heard one. But after several seconds, it called again & this was immediately answered by the bird on my right. ( I realize that while I say “ answered “ I have no idea what’s going on in either birds head.) I assumed they were a bonded pair since it would otherwise be unusual to see two pileated woodpeckers in such close proximity because a nesting pair will try to defend hundreds of acres of territory. At this time of the year former mates will be moving closer together in preparation for nest building & mating. And that leads to my 1st question. I checked several on-line sources but none told when the pair will start excavating a new nesting cavity or laying eggs in this region. Anyone out their know that ?

My second observation/question concerns the pileated woodpeckers call. If you’ve heard it, you know it’s not anything you’d call a “ bird song “. I’ve seen it described as a bark, a laugh, or a wuk/cuk call. It’s essentially the same note repeated several times with variations in the length of the repeat chain. The normal call will run several  “ wuks “ with a pause between each, e.g. wuk-wuk-wuk. There’s also the almost manic sounding version that Cornell University called the “ fast wuk series call “. There the repeat chain, length, volume & frequency all seem to increase. It’s more like a WUKWUKWUK.…. My reaction the first time I heard that was : “ What the heck was that ?” Because it seems like a such strident call, I assumed it must be a territorial warning call and thus more common during the nesting period. But the same Cornell website advised that a short “ wuk-wuk “ is the territory boundary or alarm call. Ok, I thought. That’s like us shouting “ stop, no, or help “. But then I thought about my dog’s reactions to potential threats. When another dog has acted too aggressively toward him/me/us the barks & spittle will pour out rapid fire. So, I’m still wondering. Is that “ fast wuk series call “ a special time/purpose call , or just a random variation, even though it seems to be used much less frequently that the “ normal “ wuk series ? Or is it just the pileated woodpeckers version of singing a few bars of “ Ode to Joy “ ? Appreciate any thoughts on that “ fast wuk “ question.

Love to hear about anyone else’s experiences.

Oh yeah. I’ve got 3-4” daffodil shoots all over the beds. Spring is coming.

Brownsville: How To Spend A Day In The Historic Area

Brownsville River Town Not all history lives in a museum. Case in point: Pennsylvania residents can step back in time during a day-long visit to the historic area of Brownsville. Whether you opt to plan your trip in the summer or bundle up in the winter is up to you – either way, you’ll enjoy your time in this beautiful river town!

What Can I Do In Brownsville?

There’s so much here that the town offers personalized guided tours – all you have to do to book is call 724-785-9331. If you’re the type to enjoy the flexibility of a self-guided visit, though, Brownsville organizers recommend the following itinerary:

  • Visit Brownsville’s Flatiron Building Heritage Visitor Center and the Frank L. Melega Art Museum. This is a two part entry, and for good reason – both attractions are too good to pass up and can be accessed in the same place. Free to the public and complete with guided tours, the heritage center focuses on the National Road Era and The Industrial Coal & Coke Era. A visit here will help recreate the industrialized past and tell the tale of how Brownsville – and America – came to be. After visiting the heritage center, you can head to the Frank L. Melega Museum, and browse through artwork influenced by local historic and modern artists alike.
  • Take in the architecture. A quick stroll downtown will let you take in a view of the First Cast Iron Bridge in America; the new Iron Bridge Amphitheater; the new Iron Bridge Crossing apartment buildings; unique historic architecture; and the local library that was established in 1927. All make for beautiful sights and even great photo opportunities. Architecture fans will also enjoy a walk down historic Front Street, the site of more architectural gems and residential homes.
  • Explore the history of transportation. If museums are your jam, you’ll definitely want to visit the Monongahela River, Rail and Transportation Museum. Visitors will see various artifacts from the rail and river transit systems that shaped the area. Photographs, documents, small model trains and various items from the boating industry will also help to tell the tale.
  • See the state’s only castle. Nemacolin Castle is arguably the Mon Valley’s finest house museum. It’s primary name is Bowman’s Castle, although Nemacolin Castle is a common nickname for the structure. We’ve even written about this must-see spot in the past – so be sure to keep it in mind while in the area!
  • Go to church. The Historic Church of Saint Peter is open to the public – you can call 724-785-7781 for a guided tour of the oldest local, continuously used Catholic church west of the Allegheny Mountains. Built in 1845 by Irish stonemasons, the building was constructed with locally quarried stone – and has a great story to tell to visitors.
  • Grab a meal. You’ll have to keep up your strength during your visit! And we have recommendations for that, too. One of Brownsville’s oldest known eateries is Fiddles, famous for their hot dogs. Twelve Oaks Restaurant & Tavern is also a local favorite, so perhaps you’ll want to live it up at the historic mansion turned restaurant.

If that isn’t enough to fill out a day trip, we don’t know what is. Whether you’re the type to google for “old towns near me” or you’re just itching for a day away from the usual, Brownsville may be the perfect low key destination!Ready to plan a trip to Brownsville? In addition to browsing our website for additional information and even itineraries for this charming river town, you can visit our website calendar to see other local upcoming activities!

California, PA: A Surprisingly Historic Area

 

California PA River Town
Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

Who says day trips are a summer activity? With the perfect to do list, you can enjoy a day of traveling and an array of activities that are both fun and warm and cozy. And if that sounds good to you, we can’t think of a better place to travel than California, Pennsylvania.

 

Located along the Monongahela River in Washington County, the borough of California is best known for the California University of Pennsylvania. And sure, it’s worth walking through the school’s campus if you’re able to. However, this lovely town has more to offer to visitors than college-esque hotspots! Let us show you what else is worth visiting:

  • One place worth visiting is the California Public Library. The best libraries are housed in beautiful old buildings, and this one is no exception. Set inside an old train station, the library even displays a caboose displayed on its lawn. With a historic location and daily activities, this library is a great spot for a traveling family.
  • If you feel like bundling up and exploring more of the outdoors, the California Union Memorial Park isn’t far from its library. The memorial park houses the local cemetery, where one of the town’s founders lies. Soldiers from the War of 1812 and the Civil War also lie at rest here. Interestingly, there are two 60-foot retaining walls plastered with old grave markers, instead of the stones being buried in the ground. California Union Memorial Park is not an average cemetery, and is worth your time if weather permits a visit.
  • But if you’d rather stay indoors, you may want to visit the California Area Historical Society. Housed in a building that’s over one hundred years old, the society houses records on the history of Washington, Greene, and Fayette Counties, the Civil War regimental history, and local history. They focus in genealogy and history alike – so you may be surprised by what you find here.

California is a surprising center of history in Pennsylvania, and well worth your time and attention. As with all small towns, confirming seasonal hours before your visit is highly recommended!

Ready to plan a trip to the historic area of California, PA? In addition to Googling other local activities or browsing our website bio on the town, you can visit our website calendar to see upcoming activities!

California PA Mon River Town
Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

Nemacolin Castle: A Historic House Worth Visiting

Nemacolin Castle Pennsylvania Mon River Town
Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

Have you ever heard of Nemacolin Castle? Don’t let the shared name of an infamous Pennsylvania resort fool you – Nemacolin Castle is arguably the Mon Valley’s finest house museum. It’s primary name is Bowman’s Castle, although Nemacolin Castle is a common nickname for the structure. Built in present-day Brownsville, it’s approximately one hour away from Pittsburgh. Best of all, this Pennsylvania historic landmark is open year round, with volunteers offering tours of the castle interior and its spacious grounds!

 

The History Of The Castle

According to the Nemacolin Castle website, the structure was built “at the western terminus of the Nemacolin’s Trail on the east bank of the Monongahela River.” Nemacolin Castle was built around the site of the area’s original local trading post. The trading post has roots in the 1780s – but construction on the castle began during the mid-to-late 1790s, at the hands of Jacob Bowman.

Jacob and his wife were the first of three generations to live in the structure. In the beginning, the building housed a new trading post on its ground floor, and a single room above that. It was as Bowman family grew – the couple had nine children total – that a broad hallway was added to the building.

Upon Jacob’s passing in 1847, the house passed on to Nelson Bowman, who added an east wing and a brick tower to the ever growing building. Nelson, and one of their sons, lived out their days in the home. It was after the son and his widow passed that The National Historical Society purchased the house and began to open it up to the public as a museum.

 

The Castle Today

Currently the structure is maintained and operated as a house museum by the local Brownsville Historical Society nonprofit group. Nemacolin Castle is one of a handful of 1850s buildings that stands and survives today, and the building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975. It’s fascinating history of trade and family love makes it a wonderful attraction for visitors of many ages.

Best of all, the historical society offers tours year-round of the gorgeous structure. They just ask that prospective visitors contact them at 724-785-6882 or at contact@nemacolincastle.net!

 

Why Google “historic houses near me” when this one is so close? We cannot recommend a visit to Pennsylvania’s own castle enough. Guests may also be interested in the town of Brownsville, home of the beautiful building!

Love Historic Things? You’ll Love These River Town Museums

’Tis the season – for travel and holiday cheer! The winter season is an under-appreciated time for local travel and exploration. Many Pennsylvania and even West Virginia towns offer plenty to do during the chillier months of the year. Museums, for example, are a great go-to as you travel and unplug for your normal routine. This blog is for the museum lovers out there – and will help you find some off-the-beaten-path exhibits this season!

 

Donora PA Mon River Town
Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

Donora, Pennsylvania – 27 Miles From Pittsburgh

The borough of Donora is located in Washington County, alongside the Monongahela River. The town has an industrious history, with stories of steel-making, coal-mining, agriculture, and more. In addition to a long history of creation and production, Donora houses the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum. A member of the Heinz History Center’s History Center Affiliate Program, the museum is dedicated to preserving and remembering 1948 Donora smog – an event that tragically killed 20 people and left 7,000 ill. This single event in Donora’s history helps to shine a spotlight on environmental dangers, residential welfare, and more – and is well worth a visit. Interested in visiting? Contact the museum to confirm their operating hours!

 

Brownsville, Pennsylvania – 40 Miles From Pittsburgh

Brownsville was once a frequent destination point for travelers who were heading west via the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers. Today the town is a lovely place to escape busy city life – it has two historic districts, and the area by design celebrates its rich history and local scenic beauty.

Museum-wise, Brownsville houses the Frank L. Melega Art Museum and Monongahela River, Rail, and Transportation Museum. The art museum collects, preserves, interprets, and exhibits the artworks of Frank Melega – an Indiana-born son of a coal miner with an artistic talent that earned him recognition from prestigious organizations across the country. And if art isn’t quite your thing, the transportation museum displays an impressive collection of artifacts and archival materials related to the history of river and rail transportation in this region. Between the two, you’ll be sure to get your fill of historic things this season. (Be sure to call before visiting this museum, as its hours are limited!) Interested in visiting? Be sure to contact both museums to confirm if they are operating on seasonal hours.

 

Fairmont, West Virginia – 90 Miles From Pittsburgh

While West Virginia is commonly recognized for its outdoor activity options, Fairmont has plenty to offer in the way of museums and history. The Marion County Historical Society & Museum combines both of these things, featuring a diverse collection of historic things from across the centuries. The museum’s focuses include the Revolutionary and Civil War, coal mining, the glass industry, railroad lines, and more. This charming museum will help you settle into the state, understanding a little more about the factors that shaped it. Interested? Here are their hours of operation!

As a bonus, if your schedule matches theirs – their hours are very limited – the Telephone Museum will be your next stop. With switchboards, pay phones, test boards, and more, this little museum is a fabulous tribute to the history of the telephone.

 

Morgantown, West Virginia – 75 Miles From Pittsburgh

Morgantown may house West Virginia University, but it’s not just a college town by any means. Morgantown has consistently been rated as one of the top small cities in America to live or start a small business. Historically, the area was highly contested due to its location and resources. Today visitors can get a glimpse of the area’s glass and coal heritage at the Morgantown Museum. This city-sponsored museum and nonprofit aims to promote local and regional history and to make it accessible to the citizens of Morgantown and visitors to the region.

These are just some of the delightful museums hidden throughout our river towns. If any of them grabbed your interest, we definitely recommend planning a little holiday trip – you won’t regret the chance to shop and learn as you head out of town for a seasonal trip!

 

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

*Always check the most recently posted museum hours before planning a visit, as some museums may adjust their hours for the holidays or for the winter after the publishing of this blog.

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.