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Mon's boat docks being mapped for the future

| Sunday, May 5, 2002

Travel along the Monongahela River that flows through the mid-Mon Valley area and one can see dozens of private and publicly owned boat docks — a total of 27, according to Thomas Mueller, professor of California University of Pennsylvania's Department of Earth Science.

While some of the boat docks are fading and in need of repair, others have been well kept, said Mueller, who along with his students and other interested participants have embarked on a challenging voyage.

At a recent press conference, held in the university's Eberly Science Center, Mueller announced a unique project of mapping the boat docks with the goal of providing the findings to area real estate agents in order to promote the mid-Mon Valley.

Emphasizing this is the first of a two-phase program, the educator said his group is working closely with the Mon Valley Progress Council to promote both the area's economy and recreational facilities.

Working with Mueller are graduate and undergraduate students in his advanced Geographic Information System course. Also assisting are Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center instructor Jack Kovach and several of his high school students who helped create computer-aided drafting drawings of each ramp they found along a 40-mile stretch of the placid river.

A major part of the ongoing plan, according to Mueller, is to have the students put together an application for a grant and send it to Harrisburg to continue upgrading and constructing more public boat docks, picnic areas and other recreational facilities along the Monongahela River.

At the news conference, he said, "How do real estate agents sell houses along the Mon• There are no maps (of boat launches)." He noted the students are creating maps and a brochure that real estate agents and other interested individuals can use to promote the area.

Mueller praised the students involved in the program, calling them "the best in the world." He said the group created a GIS to locate all the boat launches in the communities that border the river. Included are: Monessen, New Eagle, Allenport, California, Centerville, Charleroi, Elco, Monongahela, Speers, Stockdale and Roscoe.

"The entire stretch we are mapping covers an estimated 50 miles," he added. All the information collected will be fed into a computer database available to anyone who is interested.

Undergraduate students evaluated each boat launch according to parking, restrooms, paved roads, picnic area, condition of the launch and other factors. After the graduate students checked and graded the evaluations, students photographed each of the sites.

The ongoing project began early in the spring semester and will continue until a grant is approved, he said. After that happens, the interested participants will stay with the program until the actual construction and upgrades are finished.

Kovach and his students created maps analyzing the boat launches and built scale models of several.

"If the state approves a grant, we would create a Web site that would showcase the mid-Mon Valley for potential home buyers and visitors to the area," said Mueller.

"In the past, the Monongahela River was used to transport coal and other products on barges and boats," he declared. "Now we want to use it to improve economic conditions and help upgrade the recreational facilities along the river."

What happens when Phase II is finished?

Smiling, Mueller said, "Then we'll go to Phase III, which will be the actual development of the area and the building and development of future boat launches and facilities for the public."

Currently, many families living along the Monongahela own boats and store them in their back yards or in garages. In addition to pleasure boats, these include the increasingly popular jet skis.

A student said one of the most interesting parts of the project occurred after graduate students found the boat launches and pinpointed the sites, using a GPS. The information was then entered into a database, he said.

Amazingly, said Mueller, the entire project to date has been done without any public funds.

"We feel like we've done a pretty good job just using blood, sweat and tears," said another student. "That's why we're looking forward to getting a grant from the state and bringing this program to a successful conclusion.

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