Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail nationally recognized
The National Park Service has designated the Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail as a National Recreational Trail.
The nod from the Park Service is expected to attract more paddlers and tourists to the region, according to Laura Hawkins, Kiski-Conemaugh Greenway coordinator, and Neill Andritz, owner of the River's Edge Canoe and Kayak in Gilpin.
Water trails are rivers, creeks or lakes with access points and camping sites for the boating public.
The Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail is 86 miles long and spans four counties: Cambria, Indiana, Westmoreland, and Armstrong.
Originating in Johnstown and ending in Freeport, the water trail includes a variety of river features, historic communities and opportunities for outdoor activity.
“This is a great time to receive the (National Recreational Trail) designation,” Hawkins said, “because we've just completed a new map and guide, a mobile site and interactive web maps that showcase businesses and services and points of interest in towns along the rivers.”
Andritz, who rented kayaks and canoes to 3,500 customers last year, served as a consultant on the river trail-mapping process.
A board member of the StrongLand Chamber of Commerce, Andritz included a number of area businesses, such as restaurants.
“My customers are always asking where they can go eat,” Andritz said.
Lackey's Dairy Queen in North Apollo is a popular destination for the paddlers, according to Andritz and Dianna Sloan, a manager for Lackey's.
“They add to our business,” she said. “They're not a significant portion of our business, but it helps a lot.”
A sign posted along the river for the Dairy Queen lets potential customers know where to get off the river.
Sloan said that over the weekend, eight groups of paddlers stopped by for soft drinks and ice cream.
Andritz said some customers are choosing to rent kayaks and stay overnight in the region.
He offers a “stay and play” package, which includes accommodations with a 10 percent discount at the Old Parsonage Bed and Breakfast in Leechburg.
Karen Klingensmith, whose family owns Rockhoppers restaurant along Kiski Avenue in Apollo, would like to see more customers come from river tourism.
“I can't approximate how many people who come here are from the river,” she said. “I don't even have a place for people to dock and come up to the restaurant yet, but I am planning on putting that in at some point.”
Marketing the river towns
Access from the river into the towns, and information on where people can go — such as local museums and landmarks — is the challenge of marketing the Alle-Kiski Valley for these outdoor adventurers.
“We know that there are ample resources, points of interest and businesses in the area,” Hawkins said. “But the day-tripper coming in and out of these towns isn't aware of these things.”
The new guide and mobile Internet application are supposed to help newcomers find their way.
Hawkins stressed the national designation is an opportunity to bring more folks in from a broader audience.
“It's hard for most of us who have lived here to think of this place as scenic, because we have seen it at its worst,” she said. “But it's very scenic and there's lots of history.
“This corridor is little-known and it's a new opportunity for paddlers.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.