Initially launched in 2010 with six communities along the Allegheny River, the program expanded in 2011 to include five Monongahela River communities in Washington, Greene and Fayette Counties. In 2013, five Mon River towns were added, including three in West Virginia, and recently, communities along Schuylkill River and French Creek joined the program. Each river town has its own organizing committee, which collectively have raised more than $1 million for waterfront improvements.
The program has evolved into a model for implementing collaborative solutions to environmental protection and restoration, by recognizing the inextricable links between the environment, the economy and quality of life.
It’s the collaborative spirit of the communities involved that excites Cathy McCollom, Director, River Town Program and Principal, McCollom Development Strategies.
The River Town Program works with communities to provide hands-on assistance for a period of three years. “Once communities in the program learned to work together they saw the value,” explains McCollom. “That collaborating attracted money for projects and offered support, and allowed communities to learn from one another and attack challenges together.”
In fact, the initial six communities that completed the Monongahela River Towns program wanted to continue to work together.
According to McCollom, the “graduates,” along with existing river towns, formed the Mon River Valley Coalition. The group, which meets quarterly at Cal U to discuss major priorities, has developed a five-year plan with six priorities.
The first priority, to improve river access. Collectively, four communities, working with Washington County Planning Department, have applied to add boat launches to improve access through Act 13 funding (Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund).
Other initiatives include attracting more kayak and canoe rental businesses; improving signage to attract and direct visitors to the Mon; and developing vacant spaces and underutilized buildings.
It has been very rewarding for McCollom and the River Town Program to see graduates continuing to work together to benefit the region’s river towns.
“We weren’t always certain what would happen after we were done working with a community for three years,” says McCollom.
Now they know – continued collaboration.