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Boat launches added in Blairsville | TribLIVE.com
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Boat launches added in Blairsville

Jeff Himler
| Sunday, September 17, 2017 11:00 p.m
gtrBvBoatLaunch2091817
Submitted
Blairsville Borough workers construct a boat launch from concrete slabs at the upstream end of the Blairsville Riverfront Trail along the Conemaugh River. A pier of the former Cokeville Bridge can be seen midstream at right.
gtrBvBoatLaunch1091817
Submitted
A Blairsville Borough crew installs an improved boat launch on the Conemaugh River just downstream from the Bairdstown Bridge.

Kayakers who want to enjoy a scenic paddle down the Conemaugh River have more options for planning their trip now that Blairsville has a pair of boat launches bookending its popular Riverfront Trail.

Officials on Tuesday will dedicate an improved boat ramp at the west end of town, just downstream from the Bairdstown Bridge, and a new companion launch site farther upstream — in WyoTech Park, near the eastern head of the trail.

The launches, constructed beginning Aug. 21, already have fulfilled their function, said Jon Herby, president of the Blairsville Community Development Authority that initiated the project.

“The day we finished the one at Bairdstown, two kayakers used it that very day,” Herby said.

Kayaking on the river dividing Westmoreland and Indiana counties has grown in recent years. A Paddle and Picnic event that ends in Blairsville has drawn an average of 50 participants in each of its three years. The town also is a stop on a longer annual weekend sojourn that attracts about 80 each June.

“Our mission has always been to introduce or reintroduce people to paddling on all sections of the Stonycreek, Conemaugh and Kiski rivers,” said Mike Burk, president of the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy that guides both events.

If paddlers don’t want to spend the time or energy on an 11-mile trip downstream through the Packsaddle Gap to Blairsville, Burk pointed out they now can choose a shorter excursion along the bend of the river that borders the borough. “It’s a short float for young kids that maybe don’t have the stamina to do a longer paddle,” he said.

Authority Secretary Linda Gwinn said two $4,000 grants from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy helped cover the cost of materials for the boat launches. Needed services were obtained locally, including engineering donated by local resident Jim Garvin, permitting through the Indiana County Conservation District, and heavy equipment and labor from the borough, with community volunteers assisting.

Each of the boat ramps was formed by laying a series of concrete slabs atop geotextile fabric and filling the gaps between them with bricks and gravel.

Herby said the design is meant to extend the life of the concrete, allowing it to endure the area’s seasonal freeze-thaw cycle as well as the rise and fall of the river level as the Army Corps makes adjustments downstream at the Conemaugh Dam. Also, rocks were placed to create a “current break,” maintaining calmer water where kayakers move their craft in and out of the river, Herby said.

A ramp from Water Street to the Conemaugh, near the Bairdstown Bridge, had been used for years by Blairsville for emergency water rescues. More extensive work was required at WyoTech Park to complete a descending path from the Riverfront Trail to the new launch there.

“There was a 6- to 8-foot embankment from the river bank to the water, and the borough regraded all of that and made it much more accessible,” Herby said.

Gwinn said the boat launches are part of the community’s ongoing effort to enhance recreation in and along the river, based on a 2005 Blairsville Waterfront Greenway master site plan for areas the borough leases from the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We did not let that plan sit on the shelf,” she said. “We are systematically working through that to implement projects.”

Other recent improvements include the trail and Kelley Park — a picnic area with swings along Water Street, not far from the Bairdstown Bridge.

Those recreational assets are making Blairsville an ever more welcoming community, said Laura Hawkins, greenway coordinator for the Allegheny Ridge Corporation.

“When large companies are looking for places to relocate, recreational opportunities are one of the things they’re looking at,” she said.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Jeff by email at jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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