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Park to consider expanding use of Ohiopyle Falls

| Thursday, Aug. 25, 2005

John Hallas, operation manager at Ohiopyle State Park, says a proposal to open the park's falls for adventure boating will be discussed sometime after this weekend's festival.

Hallas had said he would not consider allowing frequent running of the falls until he saw a plan that is "well thought out."

That's exactly what American Whitewater has tried to present, says paddler Barry Tuscano, a past president of the group, He says members of the group have put together a proposal in connection with the Ohiopyle Over the Falls Festival this weekend.

"We're trying to show that the falls are extremely doable," says Tuscano, adding the group has presented Hallas with a proposal on ways to handle expanded use of the falls along the Youghiogheny River.

Hallas says he is not making comment on the plan until he talks with the group.

Tuscano, who had the first legal run of the falls when the festival began in 1999, says, among other features, the proposal:

  • Gives the park administration the right to determine when the falls could be run;

  • Would require a waiver clearing the state of any responsibility;

  • Would involve creating another put-in area to eliminate possible confusion by users of the calmer Middle Yough.

    Hallas says he worries users of the Middle Yough would pass up their takeout accidentally or, worse, "overestimate their abilities" and continue to the falls.

    He says he suspects the easy access to the falls will lure unprepared paddlers. He says that makes it different from the often-used Great Falls on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., where "tougher access weeds people out who think of using it."

    Even if the park or the state would not be held responsible for accidents, he says he is certain park employees and officials would get involved in rescues, when necessary, or outcomes such as legal inquiries into accidents -- or deaths.

    Hallas says the expanded use of the falls is "not impossible," but hinges on a near-foolproof plan.

    Festival planners and Youghiogheny River enthusiasts speak with eagerness about use of the falls.

    "This festival is promoting the park, that's for sure," Tuscano says, "but its whole aim has always been to open the falls more."

    Barry Adams, coordinator of the festival, agrees.

    "It's a relatively easy falls to run," he says. "You have to watch the rapids on the one side as you approach, but it's not too tough." He laughs a little. "And once you get to the edge you're going over."

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