Final ferry trip signals end of an era
By Mary Pickels
Published: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, 11:21 p.m.
An era will end as the Fredericktown Ferry glides across the Monongahela River for the final time on Friday.
A group of pals who operate the Facebook page Friends of the Fredericktown Ferry plan to send the boat into retirement with a noon party on Wednesday.
“We picked Wednesday because that is convenient for all of us,” said Evan Williams of Carmichaels in Greene County.
The gathering will be a “celebration” and “acknowledgement” of the ferry, he said Monday.
“A lot of people don't even know it's down there or thought it was closed already,” Williams said.
Fayette County's website states it “will cease its role with operation of the Fredericktown Ferry effective Sept. 3.”
A county bridge department staff member confirmed that the ferry's last scheduled runs will take place on Friday.
The ferryboat that criss-crosses the river between Fayette and Washington counties ran out of steam in May, when the county commissioners unanimously voted to cease its operation.
Washington County expressed no interest in running the ferry without Fayette's help, according to commissioners.
The two-minute ferry ride shuttles pedestrians and vehicles.
Following the opening of the bridge on the Mon-Fayette Expressway, average daily ridership for the ferry dropped from 247 to 90, commissioners said.
It ran from 6:15 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. weekdays and from 6:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. on Saturdays.
This week's final rides will run from 6:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. only, according to a recorded message on the ferry's telephone line.
Fayette and Washington counties shared costs to provide the centuries-old ferry service, with Fayette taking on the added expense of employing riverboat pilots and managing operations.
Fayette Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky proposed withdrawing Fayette's support because ridership dropped significantly since the bridge over the Monongahela River opened last year.
The ferry went from generating $91,063 in fares in 2009 to $38,219 in 2012, according to Controller Sean Lally. It posted a $44,678 loss in 2012, and the two counties contributed a combined $155,112 toward its $238,009 operating expenses in 2012.
“With the cost of operating this, clearly, we're losing money,” Zapotosky said then.
Williams, along with Danielle Crooks of Nemacolin, Jen Holleran of Fredericktown and Chip Guesman of Poland Mines in Greene County, started the Friends of the Fredericktown Facebook page in February.
The group tried to encourage efforts to save the ferry, Williams said.
He thinks the ferry could have been promoted by Fayette and Washington counties as a tourist attraction.
John Bower, who operates the Bower Brothers Lounge with his brother, Scott Bower, near the ferry landing, agreed.
Bower sponsored a Ferryboat Festival for four years, paying ferry riders' fares.
The second year more than 400 people rode the ferry, he said.
Lack of support from the community and dry docking for ferry repairs ended the festivals, he said.
Up until a year or so ago, Bower said, early-morning shift workers at the State Correctional Institution — Fayette regularly used the ferry boat.
“I truly believe, right or wrong, ridership was down due to (ferry boat) unreliability,” he said.
Bower, who grew up near the ferry, made the crossing for enjoyment, taking his children for rides.
“I would like to know what they are going to do with it. It's a piece of history. I don't mind my tax dollars going for something like that,” he said.
Williams said he and his friends created the Facebook page so people could voice their opinions and share memories.
With that in mind, the group posted an invitation for anyone interested to meet on Wednesday for a ride.
“We are going to take pictures, shoot some last video,” Williams said.
“If this sounds fun, try to make it on down and participate,” the post states.
“It's a (expletive) shame that a group of a few voted officials opted to terminate services, and disregard Fred's history, and we just want it to go out in style,” it adds.
It had been shared 300 times by Monday afternoon, Williams said.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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