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Alle-Kiski Valley's human-powered boats boom in popularity

| Sunday, May 30, 2010

While powerboating has been popular for years in the Alle-Kiski Valley, the real boom regionally has been in human-powered boating.

The Kiskiminetas River, which forms the border between Westmoreland and Armstrong counties, has seen tremendous growth in kayaking and canoeing.

Neill Andritz owns River's Edge Canoe and Kayak Rental in Gilpin with his wife, Evelyn. The outfitter offers 22-mile runs down the Kiski from Avonmore to the Schenley section of Gilpin, where the Kiski enters the Allegheny River.

He said his business just keeps getting busier. The Andritzs outfitted 800 customers in 2007. In 2009, the number jumped to a 2,000.

"It is due to the fact that the Kiski has made such a miraculous comeback," Andritz said.

Once one of Pennsylvania's most polluted waterways due to mine drainage, the teeming population of fish and wildlife is testament to cleanup efforts. and has been named the state's River of the Year.

Another outfitter, Venture Outdoors of Pittsburgh, reports an 18 percent growth rate per year in the number of boat/kayak excursions and rentals in the last three years on the Allegheny River.

"People realize the river is a great way to see the area, to see the city skyline," said Lora Woodward, public program manager for Venture Outdoors. "And we build our programs around those landscapes."

The group offers tours upriver, including excursions to Sycamore Island in Blawnox, which has been designated as a nature reserve by its new owner, the Allegheny Land Trust.

The kayak community continues to grow, and organize.

On June 5, Venture Outdoors and local paddlers will assemble for "Paddle at the Point," an attempt to set a new record for the largest flotilla of canoes and kayaks.

They need 1,105 boats to set the record, and currently have 950 registered.

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