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Three Rivers Arts Festival chairs wash into rivers |

Three Rivers Arts Festival chairs wash into rivers

| Tuesday, June 13, 2017 3:42 p.m.

A Riverlife project to track the use and movement of 30 plastic lawn chairs during the Three Rivers Arts Festival ended with plenty of happy photos and hashtags, but also with more than a third of the chairs splashing into the three rivers.

Set out along the waterfront as part of the arts festival, the moveable chairs of Riverlife’s “Take a Seat” project were intended to show people enjoying the rivers and attractions, said senior project manager Nina Chase.

Attendees were encouraged to take pictures of themselves in the chairs and tag them on social media with “#TakeASeatPGH,” while posted daily maps of where the chairs’ GPS tags showed them being used.

Chase said the GPS maps showed the IKEA chairs mostly stayed around Point State Park, and users gradually moved some to the Convention Center, the North Shore and Station Square.

But by Monday, boaters like Ian Lipsky were finding the chairs floating in the Ohio and washing ashore as far downstream as Neville Island.

“I was a little distressed. The issue here is that we have to consider the consequences of our actions, even if they’re well-intended as part of an art project,” said Lipsky, 54, of Swissvale.

He and six friends and family had rented a pontoon boat for the afternoon from a marina in Sharpsburg and discovered more than a half-dozen of the chairs either floating or washed up as they went south along the Allegheny and Ohio rivers, said Lipsky, a hydrologist.

“As we kept going downstream, as our eyes were attuned to it, we started seeing more,” he said.

He tweeted some of his pictures to Riverlife, whose account responded quickly Tuesday to say that they were aware of the problem and working with Allegheny Cleanways to fish out any chairs they can find.

Chase and Riverlife spokesman Stephan Bontrager blamed high winds, rather than vandals, as the likely reason so many chairs became temporary watercraft. Hitting the water appeared to have broken the GPS tags, which brought the total cost of each chair to about $30. Riverlife paid for all the chairs, labeling and GPS tags, Chase said.

“Overall, we were very impressed with how well people treated the chairs,” Bontrager said. “The winds happened overnight, when no one was around to stack them or fish them out.”

Chase said 10 chairs had been recovered from the rivers Monday night and returned to Riverlife’s offices; GPS showed one had been carted off to Columbus, Ohio; one remained at Station Square and Lipsky said he cleaned up and kept two he salvaged from the water. That left three unaccounted for as of Tuesday.

“The name of the project was ‘Take a Seat,’ so we understand if some people took that literally,” Chase said.

Chase and Bontrager encouraged anyone who spots one of the remaining chairs to take a photo and tweet it at @RiverlifePgh along with its location.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, or via Twitter @msantoni.

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