Rafting event to draw 200 to Allegheny River
Some months ago, Pam Everett floated the idea to her friends that they should spend a lazy summer day drifting down the Allegheny River buoyed by inner tubes, rafts or whatever their craft of choice.
That idea turned into an event she expects will bring out 200 people or more on Saturday to float down the river en masse in a fun salute to outdoor recreational opportunities available in Armstrong County.
“When I started this, it was just a joke between me and my friends,” Everett said. “Now, people are talking about it as far away as Punxsutawney. People in Clarion are talking about it.”
Everett of Windoon got the OK from the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission, then laid out some ground rules, including requiring everyone to have life jackets and banning littering.
The float event was initially scheduled for June 21, but questionable water conditions generated by heavy rains earlier that week prompted Everett to postpone it.
There's a favorable forecast for float day — highs in the upper seventies and no chance of rain, according to the National Weather Service.
Dubbed the Templeton/Adrian Floatation Awareness River Rafting Day, the event is meant to promote safety while having fun on the water. Top on the list is to use life jackets or floatation devices.
This year, nine people have drowned while boating in Pennsylvania, said Dennis Tubbs, regional outreach and education coordinator for the Fish and Game Commission.
“None of them had life jackets,” he said.
Through its national “Wear It” campaign, the commission encourages everyone to wear life jackets. Tubbs suggests finding one that fits well and is comfortable. To encourage kids to leave them on, he suggests buying themed life jackets with a favorite movie character. State law requires that children 12 and under wear a life jacket while boating. Others are required to have a life jacket readily accessible.
Tubbs cautions boaters and floaters to be wary of the sun. Sunglasses, hats and waterproof sunscreen are essential.
“On the water, you've got to remember, you're getting direct sun down, but it also reflects back up,” he said. “You're almost getting hit twice.”
Those floating in River Rafting Day will get in at 11 a.m. near Lock 9 in Templeton. The float will end at the public boat launch in Templeton. There is no charge to take part in the event that is expected to take about four hours.
Participants can enter the water on either side of the river. Event organizers said they plan to keep the middle of the river open for boaters.
Five pontoon boats along for the float will offer rides back to the starting point after the event. Drivers will accept donations to help pay for gas.
The inaugural event that started out as a spoof has been drawing attention to how much the Allegheny River is used for recreation, said Kevin S. Andrews, director of the Armstrong County Tourism Bureau. He can see the float growing in the future.
“This is great for tourism purposes,” he said. “It is drawing a large crowd and showcasing the Allegheny River, one of Armstrong County's best assets.”
Before Rafting Day starts, its organizers are thinking about next year. They are considering making the event an annual fundraiser to assist efforts by the Allegheny River Development Corporation to open the locks to recreational boaters during the summer. The four Armstrong County locks were closed in 2012.
While it may be new to the area, events like Rafting Day are growing in popularity throughout Pennsylvania, according to the Fish and Boat Commission. Tubbs credits the popularity of river recreation in the state to water clean-up efforts that started in the 1970s.
“Rivers are cleaner than they were 20 years ago,” he said. “Sixty years ago or more, people used rivers as dumping grounds. That attitude has changed dramatically with our generation. People understand the value of clean water.”
Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315, or firstname.lastname@example.org.