Rivers are vital to our lives. For decades, as we grew into an industrialized nation, we gave little regard to what we put into those rivers. Now, we understand we cannot destroy what gives us life. As a result, many of our rivers are slowly improving as we balance the needs of industry with the need for clean water.
I was heartened recently to attend the eleventh annual Ohio River Watershed Celebration (ORWC) in Pittsburgh. ORWC is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Stream Restoration, Inc.Funding for the ORWC is provided by generous donations from private businesses, industries, foundations, and citizens.
The event’s goals are
- To promote watershed stewardship, energy conservation, environmental education, and outreach.
- To provide networking opportunities that form lasting partnerships among diverse community interests.
- To celebrate and encourage environmental initiatives that support the continual recovery of the Ohio River Watershed in Western Pennsylvania and neighboring states through an enjoyable experience on the rivers.
This year’s event in late September brought out hundreds of students, parents, teachers, environmentalists, government officials, and business partners on a rainy Thursday afternoon. They gathered at the docks in downtown Pittsburgh, and without complaint about the soggy weather, boarded two cruise ships bound for the three rivers of the Steel City.
Ron Schwartz with Pennsylvania DEP told the crowd, “This rain is nature’s way of purifying the waterways.”
Nowhere is it clearer why a city exists where it does than in Pittsburgh. The Monongahela River flows from south to north to meet up with the south flowing Allegheny River. The two rivers meet at the Point in downtown, and the Ohio River forms and flows almost 1,000 miles westward to the Mississippi River. This year’s theme “Our Rivers – let’s get to the point” focused on how those three rivers shaped the course of the region.
When coal was discovered in the hills above the convergence of the three rivers, the city was poised to become a giant during the Industrial Revolution. However, giants leave large footprints and within a few years of steel mills spewing out poisons into the air and water, Pittsburgh was a coughing and sputtering mess. The once bucolic journey of the rivers changed to an industrial highway.
Thankfully, with deliberate consideration, the city has been reborn, and the rivers are testament to the rebirth. Fish and wildlife have returned.
Two cruise ships set sail from the docks. The Imagination Cruise overflowed with students waving from the upper decks of the Gateway Clipper fleet ship despite the pouring rain.
Adults boarded the other ship for the Networking Cruise.
Booths and presentations for both cruises provided information on how to protect watersheds. Other booths celebrated the joys of paddling the rivers and enjoying their recreational value. Yet others passed out literature on how to best maintain gardens and lawns while not harming the watershed. Before walking down the ramp to the docks, several vehicles in the parking lot showed visitors how gas guzzlers can become fuel efficient vehicles.
Mr. Rogers’ statute watched over the ships from the banks of the Allegheny River on the north shore. The man who made Pittsburgh his home taught us all to love our communities. It’s a great day in the neighborhood, rain or shine.