Johnstown Reconsiders Its Industrial Rivers For Recreation

Sep 19, 2014

Bob Bridges of Coal Tubin' steers an inflatable boat called the shredder down the Stonycreek River in Johnstown, Pa. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

On a recent summer day, Bob Bridges inflated a boat called the shredder, loaded it on a trailer, took it to an inconspicuous pull off, and launched it into the Stonycreek River.

Bridges, born and raised in Johnstown, and now managing a recreational tubing company called Coal Tubin’, said not so long ago that simple boat launch was not possible. “As I was growing up we always knew we were home because of the smell the river put off. It used to be orange,” he said. Johnstown is an unequivocally industrial town. Historically, the rivers provided water for the coal mines and steel mills in the region, and industry flushed waste into those same rivers, all but killing them.

But as Johnstown reevaluates what kind of place it wants to be – the city is working to attract new residents, new businesses, and new types of industry – the three rivers that frame the city have also become part of the discussion. What the rivers can mean to Johnstown is still under discussion, but already a lot has changed.

Read a full version of this report at the website of Keystone Crossroads, a new statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania's cities