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Boosters try to drum up votes for Kiski-Conemaugh rivers

Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
The Kiski River as viewed from the Apollo Bridge looking south on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013.

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The Kiski-Conemaugh rivers need a heaping helping of more votes to win Pennsylvania's River of the Year contest.

The Kiski-Conemaugh rivers, featuring about 80 miles of paddling from Johnstown to Freeport, are in fourth place out of five nominees for the annual award that recognizes water quality and recreational use.

Sponsored by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, the winner is determined by public vote.

Voting has been under way for a little more than two weeks; the last day to vote is Dec. 27.

The winner receives a $10,000 prize.

However, the publicity of the honor, including a river sojourn and other events, is far more valuable.

With two weeks left for voting via the Internet, the Schuylkill River is in the lead, having captured 45 percent of the vote, followed by the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and the Ohio River, which are tied at 16 percent each, the Kiski-Conemaugh rivers at 14 percent and the Brodhead Creek and watershed in the northeastern part of the state at 9 percent.

Last year, the Schuylkill River was in the lead, but a rush of votes late in the game for the Monongahela River catapulted the once highly polluted waterway to first place, 8,156 votes to 8,010 out of the 25,450 ballots cast, according to the River of the Year website.

Although the Schuylkill is in the densely populated Philadelphia region, the potential for a large block of votes didn't provide an advantage, at least last year.

“It was the local support and votes that allowed the Monongahela to pull ahead to first place last year,” said Amy Camp, a land and water trails specialist from O'Hara with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

“We're a small population-based area, and we need everyone to vote,” said Bob Kossak, president of the Kiskiminetas River Watershed Association, which is working to help launch a Facebook page to garner more votes.

“We're usually up against some heavy hitters,” said John Linkes of Leechburg, a director on the Roaring Run Watershed Association board and the Kiskiminetas River Watershed Association. “But I tell people, that the Kiski is the little river that could.”

Kossak and Linkes point to the thousands of dollars in grants and projects to clean up acid mine drainage that once poured in large quantities into the river.

The Kiski and Conemaugh rivers teamed up for a nomination and won River of the Year in 2000. The Kiski was nominated on its own last year.

“People are starting to look at the river as the natural resource that it should be rather than a landfill where you could dump anything in the river,” said Linkes.

Laura Hawkins of Latrobe, coordinator for the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway, said the publicity could help the Conemaugh and Kiski rivers.

“I spend a lot of time in the Pittsburgh area with outdoors people who love to paddle, and I'm always amazed by how many don't know the Kiski and the Conemaugh as a paddling destination,” she said.

“The publicity from the award helps feed a lot of economic development strategies that some of the communities along the river are adhering to. These small towns along those rivers are bedroom communities that are near bike trails, are historical and offer a low cost of living. These places are attractions.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or

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