The public has voted the Allegheny River to be the state’s 2024 River of the Year.
State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn and Pennsylvania Organization for Waterways and Rivers’ Janet Sweeney on Monday congratulated Three Rivers Waterkeeper for a successful get-out-the-vote campaign.
It will culminate in a group “sojourn” or float later this year for people in canoes and kayaks that Dunn said in a news release she “cannot wait to celebrate.”
The Allegheny River starts as a stream in a wildflower-filled field in Potter County, crosses briefly into New York and then through six counties in Western Pennsylvania. The 325-mile river ends in Pittsburgh where it meets the Monongahela River and flows into the Ohio River. It not only provides drinking water to more than 1 million people, the DCNR notes, but also is “an ecologically and economically precious water trail.”
The fertile valleys and abundant biodiversity have led many communities to call this place home, including the O-non-dowa-gah (Seneca Nation), who call the Allegheny Ohi:yo’ (beautiful river); the Lenni Lenape (Delaware Nation), who named it welhik-heny (most beautiful stream); and French settlers who referred to it as La Belle Riviere.
A series of locks and dams were constructed in the early 20th century to make the Allegheny River navigable for barges to transport goods, and now swimming, boating and fishing are popular pursuits. The river includes the Allegheny Islands Wilderness, a seven-island, 372-acre preserve that boasts old-growth hardwoods and prolific bird populations.
The U.S. Forest Service has documented over 50 mammals, 200 birds, 25 amphibians, 20 reptiles, 80 fishes and 25 freshwater mussels in and around the Allegheny, including the threatened salamander mussel (Simpsonaias ambigua), which help improve the water quality by filtering out sediment and pollutants.
The public was invited to vote online for the River of the Year, choosing from among three waterways nominated. A total of 20,259 votes were cast, a record for the River of the Year Program, with the Allegheny River receiving 8,307, the Youghiogheny 7,212 and the Lackawaxen River 4,740.
Three Rivers Waterkeeper nominated the Allegheny River and will receive a $10,000 Leadership Grant to help fund a slate of yearlong 2024 River of the Year activities. DCNR and POWR will work with them to create a free commemorative poster celebrating the Allegheny River as the 2024 Pennsylvania River of the Year.
“We were so excited to see just how many people came together to show their support for the Allegheny River after we nominated it for River of the Year,” said Jess Friss, Three Rivers Waterkeeper’s director of community programs. “We are looking forward to everything we are able to do this year to promote all the wonderful resources the Allegheny River provides to us, including a summer kickoff! We are dedicated to protecting the water quality of the Allegheny River and all its uses, and knowing that it was awarded the River of the Year because of the support of the community shows the collective commitment to environmental stewardship, recreation and love for our waterways that defines this community.”