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Boaters have run of Allegheny River as Army Corps temporarily reopens 4 locks

| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 9:04 a.m.
Julie E. Martin
Lock 7 in Kittanning opened Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014.

Boaters descended en masse on Saturday upon the Upper Allegheny River, taking advantage of a rare chance to pass through locks that have been closed to recreational traffic since 2012.

The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Clinton, Kittanning, Mosgrove and Rimer locks this weekend for the Alle-Kiski Strong Chamber of Commerce's Allegheny River Poker Run.

Mandy Stitt, 27, of Freeport traversed the river in her speed boat for the poker run, heading down past Schenley and back up to Kittanning. She and friends planned to spend the evening on the river.

“It would be great if we could do it all the time,” she said.

Locks were opened from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Those at the chamber encouraged all to take advantage of the chance to make their way through the open locks.

And they did. Locks 6, 7, 8 and 9 saw brisk business all day. Officials at Lock 7 at Kittanning said 250 boats had passed through by 8 p.m. Saturday.

“We're so anxious to get these locks open. We just want to go explore the pools,” said John Jackovitz, a Monroeville resident who docks at the Rosston Marina below Ford City. He was heading upriver with plans to lock through to the Kittanning pool.

He's had a lease at Rosston for more than 30 years. He keeps his 47-foot houseboat there, even though lock access is restricted. Now he's limited to parties at the marina and making his way around the pool.

“Our kids grew up on this stretch of river,” he said. “Now, we can't go down. We can't go up. I think it's silly.”

Jackovitz is unhappy with the federal budget cuts that two years ago made the locks off limits for recreation, he said.

On the bright side, for four days in August there will be an opportunity for Armstrong County boating to return to how it was before the closures. The locks will also be open next weekend for an Arts on the Allegheny concert.

Unlocking the river boosts the local economy, Jackovitz said.

Business at Rosston bore that out. Staff said merchandise sales were up. Gas sales, they estimated, more than doubled from the previous weekend.

“Boaters are going to spend a lot of money,” Jackovitz said. “We're going to spend money. We're going to the Mariner.”

And so were a lot of other people. The Allegheny Mariner restaurant next to the Kittanning Marina was packed.

Bill Dimmitt, 64, of Valley Township and his wife, Marsha, headed upriver in their pontoon boat to visit friends.

The trip would be a little different than those in the past. He sold his houseboat at the end of last year. With the lock restrictions, he said, he couldn't use such a large craft.

Dimmitt said he hopes a good response to the lock openings would send a message to those at the federal level holding the purse strings.

“It's our tax money after all,” he said.

A member of the Allegheny River Development Corporation, a nonprofit working to open the locks for recreation, Dimmitt was encouraged by Saturday's turnout.

“There's more boat traffic than I've seen in a long time,” he said.

Ronald Wyant, 60, of Baltimore agreed.

“I've never seen this many people here,” the Kittanning native said as he readied his boat for fishing in Lock 7.

Wyant was heading out with his twin brother, Donald, a Kittanning resident.

“It's great. We're seeing more boats on the river than we have in a long time,” Donald Wyant said. “I wish they'd keep the locks open forever.”

Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315, or jmartin@tribweb.com.

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