Paddlers accustomed to the relatively easy Class III waters of the Lower Youghiogheny are now tackling a more forbidding foe threatening their waterway: a strip mine that would strip the river of its wilderness character.
The Amerikohl Mining Co.’s Curry Mine is a proposed 464-acre strip mine along the banks of the Youghiogheny River, just above the northern border of Ohiopyle State Park and adjacent to the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail. This proposed mine could impact on the Yough and two of its high-quality tributaries, Morgan and Johnson Runs.
“The mine is downstream of the “normal” take-out of Bruner Run, a couple miles further right at the confluence of and take-out for Class IV Indian creek,” says Kenneth Gfroerer, one of many locals opposing the mine and member of the Yough River Defense Club. “It would also affect adjacent Class V Morgans Run, which also drops into Yough at that point on river left.”
Showing they’re not going to go down without a fight, local paddlers gathered at the end of November for a Yough River Defense Party at Falls City Pub next to Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle, Pa. In an event sponsored by Wilderness Voyageurs, $20 donations went to the Yough River Defense Fund to fight the proposal.
“It was a huge success,” says Gfroerer. “Over 200 people attended on a weeknight, some driving from Ohio, D.C., Maryland and West Virginia. We had a raft guides, fishermen, bikers and boaters give everywhere from $5 to event $1,000, and raised close to $15,000 so far and counting.”
Here’s where the fight stands: The Fayette County Zoning Board denied Amerikohl Mining’s request for a zoning variance, but the company has appealed the decision, submitting a revised application with the Department of Environmental Protection for the mining permit on the Curry property. To date, legal expenses for defending the Yough from this threat have totaled over $8,000.
“This is a winnable fight,” says Gfroerer. “We know this because the Zoning Board recognized the importance of protecting the crown jewel of the Laurel Highlands and Ohiopyle, and in a rare move, denied the zoning exception due to the potential adverse impacts on the Yough. The coal company may have deep pockets, but they can’t match a concerted congregation of passionate and motivated supporters of the Yough. The river’s recreational and economic impact is vital to our region.”
To help support the Yough Defense Fund, visit Yough Defense Fund. You may also send a check to Yough Defense Fund, Mountain Watershed Association, PO Box 408, Melcroft, PA 15462.