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Youghiogheny: Appalachian River

Tim Palmer
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania provide the setting for the most popular whitewater in America: the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle. People from all over the nation come to run the rapids, while others simply enjoy the natural beauty of Ohiopyle State Park. But this Appalachian river has many faces as it flows from its source among the scattered mountain farms of western Maryland to its confluence with the Monongahela in the industrial outskirts of Pittsburgh. Though always a home to people who cherish their mountain roots, the region's river offers recreation for millions of Americans.

    By canoe, raft, van, and on foot, Tim Palmer explores the river from its highest spring to its industrial end. He writes about the people - afternoon visitors and eigth-generation natives - and about their pasts and their hopes, about the shaping of the land, and the land's inevitable shaping of them.

    The author chronicles the rise of the five Ohiopyle rafting companies that host 80,000 visitors each year and then takes the reader on one of these outfitted voyages. Finally, Palmer paddles beyond the Appalachians to the river's urban end near Pittsburgh. Strip mining, land development, and recreation management are examined with a consciousness that asks, What will happen to this remarkable but threatened place?

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7135-1
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Map of the Youghiogheny
    (pp. viii-viii)
  2. Historical Events Along the Youghiogheny
    (pp. xi-2)
  3. Chapter One The High Ridge
    (pp. 3-12)

    “It seemsthat most people who came up here were trying to get away from something,” Prothero said. “They were renegades or dropouts—people trying to escape. Or maybe they were the hunters, the ones who were looking for something, and they thought this would be a good place to find it.” I had figured Jim Prothero came to the Youghiogheny River of southwestern Pennsylvania to guide raft trips, since that’s what he did for five years after he arrived, but he corrected me. He came here after he broke up with a girl friend. He needed to get away,...

  4. Chapter Two A Gathering of Waters
    (pp. 13-28)

    It maybe only chance that has given us the spelling of Youghiogheny. The earliest reference to the river is a caption on a map drawn in 1737 by William Mayo: “Spring heads of Yok-yo-gane river a south branch of the Monongahela.” In 1751, a map of Virginia and Maryland called the river the Yawyawganey. One year later a trader’s map listed Ohio Gani. Captain Robert Orme of the Braddock expedition in 1755 called the river both Joxhio Geni and Yoxhio Geni. Nicholas Cresswell, an Englishman who traveled west to acquire land for a group of Virginians, wrote in 1775...

  5. Chapter Three Wild River
    (pp. 29-73)

    On thecount of three, Steve Martin and I heave the twelve-foot-long rubber raft off Sang Run Bridge. The boat falls as though in slow motion, like a parachute, like a rafter’s nightmare of Niagara Falls. The airborne craft drops fifteen feet and lands right side up with a rifle crack smack on the Youghiogheny River. Steve had tied one end of his seventy-foot safety rope to the raft and looped the other end around the bridge railing.

    “Okay,” he says, and I climb quickly down the pier. I cling to angular chunks of sandstone, placing my feet carefully, but...

  6. Chapter Four The Dam
    (pp. 74-105)

    It ismade of dirt and rocks, 184 feet high, as tall as a fifteen-story building. With a length of 1,610 feet, the dam fills a tight spot in the Youghiogheny valley 59 miles down from the river’s source and 1.2 miles above the town of Confluence. Only two dams in Pennsylvania rise higher: Raystown, 225 feet high on the Juniata River, and Francis Walter, 234 feet high on the Lehigh. Like any rock pile, Youghiogheny Dam tapers from bottom (1,000 feet wide) to top (25 feet). It was built and is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,...

  7. Chapter Five The Confluence
    (pp. 106-118)

    A long theriver, below the dam, the first house belongs to Jim Prothero, who bought it in 1977, soon after he was married. For all he knew, the town of Confluence was going to be home forever.

    There is a certain animation about Prothero: he will point, scratch his head, tilt back his cap, cross his arms, clap his hands, shrug his shoulders, and laugh loudly. People enjoy his company. His smile covers his face and pinches his eyes almost shut. During his guiding days, some people called him “Smiley.” He is quick to laugh, and, without trying, good...

  8. Chapter Six The Singing River
    (pp. 119-136)

    No longercan I stand on the bridge in Confluence and be content watching the Youghiogheny flow west. It is time to see where the green current goes, to drift along, to explore the shores from here to Ohiopyle, to run the rapids. It is time to join the river.

    After packing my canoe I am off on a lonely trip, 227 years after George Washington canoed here and wrote, “We also found other places where the water was rapid but not so deep, and the current smoother, we easily passed over them, but afterwards we found little or scarce...

  9. Chapter Seven Ohiopyle: The Old Days
    (pp. 137-160)

    The lastpresident to visit Ohiopyle was George Washington, and that doesn’t even count because it was in 1754, long before he took office. Having embarked in a canoe at the Great Crossings and camped at the site of Confluence, he paddled downstream and wrote, “at last it became so rapid as to oblige us to come ashore.” When the man who would win the Revolution and lead the new nation got to the bend in the river that would become Ohiopyle, he gave up and quit. It was that kind of place.

    In the mid 1700s, southwestern Pennsylvania was...

  10. Chapter Eight The Park
    (pp. 161-187)

    From amountain town, old and gripped by poverty, Ohiopyle would be transformed in the late 1960s to a booming center of recreation. Pittsburgh had been the reason for much of the use of timber, coal, and land of the Youghiogheny basin, and that city was also the source of efforts and money to protect what remained of the wildness.

    The Greater Pittsburgh Parks Association was formed in the early 1930s by business leaders and citizens whose goal was to improve the city. Their modest beginning was to plant trees and shrubbery along Bigelow Boulevard, but bigger things were in...

  11. Chapter Nine Whitewater
    (pp. 188-246)

    Do youremember the first time you saw the Youghiogheny? Steve Martin of Ohiopyle laughs. He squints his eyes a bit, remembering how his life with whitewater began. “I was about twelve. It wasn’t all that much fun. My dad got me a kayak and made me come. What I really wanted to do was stay home and play with my friends.” He was growing up near Altoona, Pennsylvania, where his father owned a machine shop. At an early age Steve acquired a reputation for adventurous, fun-loving antics. He rode the cows at the farm. He jumped off roofs for...

  12. Chapter Ten Ohiopyle and the Run
    (pp. 247-267)

    Summer of1981, Ohiopyle: population 118, plus river guides, plus visitors who will total 20,000 today. More than ever, this is a river town, and in the layout of things, the Youghiogheny comes first. To enter Ohiopyle from the north, you must cross a bridge where you see that the river sets the town’s boundaries. From the south, your approach winds down the mountain, offering glimpses of Entrance Rapid. From the east, you roll off Sugarloaf and only brakes save you from the Falls.

    Here are forty houses, one general store, a set of gas pumps, five rafting company headquarters,...

  13. Chapter Eleven The Mines and the River
    (pp. 268-282)

    No placealong the Youghiogheny exposes the conflict between coal mining and water as vividly as Indian Creek. It rises near the Pennsylvania Turnpike, flows south and west to Mill Run Reservoir, then cuts a gorge of boulders and ledges, finally joining the Youghiogheny above Connellsville. This creek may be the most scenic of all Youghiogheny tributaries, but strip mines riddle its headwaters and acid drainage contaminates lower reaches. In the twelve-and-a-half square mile basin the state has issued permits allowing nearly eighty mines.

    The technique is simple: miners cut the trees, peel back the soil, and by use of...

  14. Chapter Twelve Beyond the Appalachians
    (pp. 283-306)

    Paddling fromIndian Creek toward Connellsville, Jim Wilson and I are leaving the Appalachians. The river has carved a gap in Chestnut Ridge, westernmost of the mountains that begin 150 miles to our east and run like giant north-south corduroy to this spot. The river sprawls across gravel bars. It was about this unseen path to Pittsburgh that Lewis Evans, an English map-maker in the early 1700s wrote, “If we have it, we have the Gate of the Ohio; if the French, they have the Gate to the sea.” He was wrong. The Youghiogheny below Ohiopyle brandished too many rapids...

  15. Chapter Thirteen Winter
    (pp. 307-314)

    The duckshave gone south and here I am back in Confluence. The leaves have fallen and snow squalls begun. I needed a place to build a fire and keep warm, and Jim Prothero said he would be pleased to have his River Path headquarters occupied, so home has become the second story of his old house below the dam and next to the Youghiogheny. In ten minutes I can walk into the heart of Confluence, which is Viola’s restaurant where I eat breakfast now and then.

    Having been vacant for ten years, the house was in poor condition when...