Celebrate the Mahoning River?
The knee-jerk response of some in the Mahoning Valley to that question about the much maligned waterway likely would run something like this: Are you out of your mind?
But the Friends of the Mahoning River, a growing community coalition that aims to improve the river’s watershed for recreational opportunities and economic development, is dead serious.
And its mission is right on. The organization deserves widespread community support and robust attendance at its Second Annual Mahoning Riverfest from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday on the banks of the river at B&O Station, 530 Mahoning Ave.
There, the Friends and its legion of allies will rightly celebrate the progress that’s been made toward reviving the river watershed. It also will enlist support from others in deeper cleanup initiatives that promise broader benefits toward restoring the river to its rightful place as a major recreational and economic asset for the region.
THE CHALLENGE IS HUGE
To be sure, reaching that goal will be neither easy nor speedy.
After all, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has designated the Mahoning River as one of the five most contaminated rivers in the United States. And after all, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for decades the Valley’s nine major steel mills on a daily basis dumped hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants into it.
More recently this year, a Youngstown company was caught illegally dumping about 20,000 gallons of crude oil and brine into a storm drain that empties into a Mahoning tributary.
REASONS TO CELEBRATE
Despite the depth of the river’s troubles, community engagement toward lessening them is stronger and more diverse than ever today.
Look at the Friends’ major co-sponsors for Saturday’s Riverfest. They include Vallourec, formerly V&M Star, BASS Homes Inspection Inc. and the city of Youngstown — a microcosm of the power in public-private partnerships and regional cooperation.
Look at other major supporters and presenters at Saturday’s event that include Mill Creek MetroParks, Youngstown State University, the Ohio EPA and the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
Look a little farther down the road to the Mahoning River Corridor Initiative housed at the Youngstown State University Center for Urban and Regional Studies. The initiative unites nine municipalities, YSU and four nonprofits to promote the opportunities for economic development in the river’s corridor communities.
There’s also reason to celebrate recent news from State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman. Earlier this year, he announced that Lowellville tentatively had been awarded $2.4 million from the Ohio EPA to help remove the First Street Dam on the river. It is one of several dams along the Mahoning where tons of toxic sediments must be dredged to provide a free and clear flow of water throughout the 113-mile waterway.
Schiavoni said that if the grant is officially approved, other multimillion dollar Mahoning River dredging grants would rise to the surface.
In addition, there are other smaller but important victories to celebrate as well at Riverfest. The Friends group and Trumbull Canoe Trails have completed restoration of the dock at the B& O Station banks. A ribbon cutting ceremony followed by canoe and kayak rides from there will take place at noon.
The festival Saturday also will include educational and historical presentations and displays with a focus on the river and the environment. Collectively, Saturday’s Mahoning Riverfest offers an excellent opportunity for the community to unite to celebrate progress already achieved on the river and to galvanize bigger and better achievements in the not-so-distant future.