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Youghiogheny: The Recreational River

"Yough" rhymes with "rock." Those rocks which litter the stream providing some of the best whitewater in the Eastern United States inhibited the river's use for commerce. As such, the river remains relatively untouched for most of its 135 miles. Beginning at Backbone Mountain, Preston County, WV, near the western edge of Maryland, it is the only river in western Maryland that does not flow south into the Potomac River. Its name is derived from the Algonquian word meaning "contrary stream."

Attempts to use the river for commercial navigation have never suceeded. About 1850, the Youghiogheny Slackwater Navigation Company completed two wood and stone dams to control the 27 foot drop in elevation between McKeesport and West Newton -- only to have their work wash away in the flood of January 1865. The Middle Yough between Connellsville and Whisett can usually be crossed on foot in most places. Only below Boston, where the flow meets the pool created by the Braddock Dam on the Monongahela River, does the river begin to provide a deep and reliable enough flow for larger boats. The Marina at McKee's Point, opened in 1998, uses the mouth of the Yough as a haven for pleasure craft venturing on to the Mon.

Though the Youghiogheny River was eyed as a possible route for a canal connection to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on the Potomac, it was the railroad which opened the river's course to industry. Today most of that industry is seen only in the ghosts of coal mines, coke ovens and brick works -- all long dormant. The Western Maryland Railroad tracks on the right bank still see action as the CSX mainline into Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie tracks on the left bank, originally the 1883 Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Youghiogheny ("P-Mickey"), were abandonned in 1990. The P&LE right-of-way was converted to the Yough River Trail -- a bike and hike trail which serves as part of a larger network of trails connecting Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

Sewickley Creek joins the Yough at P&LE mile 31.4 near the coal company town of Smithdale -- the company is gone, the rows of similar houses remain. From this point, Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties share the river as their boundary for 8.2 miles downstream to Crawford Run. Here General Edward Braddock met the Youghiogheny on the way toward Ft. Duquesne in July, 1755. The military expedition chose to turn northward through White Oak, crossing the Monongahela River twice before being routed in an ambush at Braddock.

8.2 miles above McKeesport, the outlet of Crawford Run marks the point in mid-river where the Youghiogheny is wholly within Allegheny County. It snakes through a few final hairpins before straightening out as it passes under the Boston Bridge. Below Boston, the river begins to feel more like a part of the Mon Valley. Of the 13 Allegheny County bridges to ever span the Yough, all but those at Sutersville were in this final section. Steel and other manufacturing plants appear on the right bank; the left bank being narrower escaped most of the development. The city of McKeesport stretched up the Yough valley from the point where David McKee began his ferry operation in 1769. Where the National Tube Works dominated the Forks of the Yough and the B&O Railroad steamed through the center of downtown, today, the once mighty city struggles to hold on.

The river that just wants to play just flows by.

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Last modified: 20-Oct-2000