Kayak Pittsburgh, Venture Outdoors reconnect recreation buffs to outside amenities

Doug Gulasy
| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 12:54 p.m.

It was an easy decision to open a kayak and bicycle rental station this spring at Millvale Riverfront Park on the Allegheny River, said Jon Lucadamo, director of Kayak Pittsburgh.

Millvale officials recognized some time ago that the borough's Allegheny riverfront was an asset, "and they spent time and money to develop the park to be someplace that the community at-large could come down and enjoy," Lucadamo said

Kayak Pittsburgh began in 2004 as a project of Venture Outdoors, a nonprofit that promotes outdoor recreation. Since then, it has grown so much that the Millvale station -- which opens May 26 and will offer 20 kayaks and 15 bicycles for rental -- will be the group's third.

The others are on the North Side and in North Park, which is in Hampton, Pine and McCandless townships and features a man-made lake. Last year, Kayak Pittsburgh rented out 16,000 kayaks, including 14,000 at the North Side location, also on the Allegheny River.

Kayak Pittsburgh is far from the only beneficiary of an increased interest in bicycling and boating in Western Pennsylvania.

"Venture Outdoors has been part of a much broader movement of reconnecting people to the rivers and reconnecting people to their outdoor recreational amenities here in Pittsburgh," Lucadamo said.

Lucadamo and others credit former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy for making riverfront improvements a priority when he was in office. In 1999, Murphy oversaw the founding of Riverlife, a nonprofit designed to develop a plan for the city's riverfronts.

Since that time, projects such as the South Side Riverfront Park and Trail on the Monongahela River, and the North Shore Riverfront Park and Trail on the Allegheny, have been completed, and others, such as the Point State Park renovation, are under way or being planned.

"It's finally at the point where people come and ride bikes on these trails or run on these trails as a family activity or a way to be fit," said Tom Demagall, co-owner of Golden Triangle Bike Rental, a for-profit company. "It's pretty amazing. Our business for the first few years was doubling every year."

Demagall said Golden Triangle, with locations Downtown and on the North Shore and South Side, sees business from locals and tourists alike because of the riverfront improvements that include pathways, trails, landscaping and marinas.

Organizations and businesses that support kayaking and bicycling cooperate on some ventures. Golden Triangle partnered with Kayak Pittsburgh, for example, to offer bike rentals at Kayak Pittsburgh's North Shore concession by PNC Park.

Rick Brown, executive director of Three Rivers Rowing Association, said outdoor promoters joined in a partnership organized by Sustainable Pittsburgh, a nonprofit whose efforts include economic and environmental issues. The partnership meets every couple of months.

It helps organize Great Outdoors Week in Pittsburgh; the event will celebrate its 11th year May 11-20.

The reasons for biking, kayaking or rowing have increased in recent years, some say.

"It was only recreational 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, and now people ride for a lot of different reasons, (including fitness)," said Jim Logan, president of Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen, a 40-year-old Pittsburgh cycling group.

Groups offer lessons and support. Three Rivers Rowing Association has several experienced rowing teams, but it offers classes to people of all abilities. Kayak Pittsburgh gives tips to people who may be less experienced, and safety equipment to everyone.

"Really, if I can get you into the boat the first time, you're coming back again," Lucadamo said.

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