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Celebrating the Mahoning: Riverfest promotes restoration, recreation at key waterway

Staff photo / Bob Coupland Lauren Potts of Austintown, left, and Talia Bixler of Mineral Ridge and J/P Tolson travel along the Mahoning River in Youngstown on Sunday. Lauren Potts of Austintown, left, Talia Bixler of Mineral Ridge, and J.P. Tolson, canoe guide, enjoy a canoe ride on the Mahoning River in Youngstown during the Riverfest hosted by the Friends of the Mahoning River. A large crowd showed up for the annual event Sunday.Lauren Potts of Austintown, left, Talia Bixler of Mineral Ridge, and J.P. Tolson, canoe guide, enjoy a canoe ride on the Mahoning River in Youngstown during the Riverfest hosted by the Friends of the Mahoning River. A large crowd showed up for the annual event Sunday.

YOUNGSTOWN — Getting a chance to spend time on the Mahoning River while learning ways to keep the river environmentally safe were part of the annual Riverfest on Sunday at Spring Commons Park / B&O Station.

The free, five-hour family-friendly event was hosted by Friends of the Mahoning River, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating to improve the quality of the Mahoning River through education, restoration and recreation.

Trumbull Canoe Trails hosted kayak and canoes rides. Participants had a choice of getting into a canoe with three people or a one-person kayak and paddling north and south a quarter of a mile on the river.

Lauren Potts of Austintown waited in line with her niece and friends Kayla Bixler of Mineral Ridge, Adelynn Hackney of East Liverpool and Talia Bixler of Mineral Ridge to get into a canoe or kayak.

“It’s great to have the different groups taking part today and getting the chance to be on the river,” Kayla Bixler said.

She opted for a kayak, noting she likes boating and fishing.

“I like doing anything in the outdoors,” she said.

Kayla, Adelynn and Talia said they all have been in canoes and kayaks before as Girl Scouts.

Jerry Vanditti of Struthers brought his daughter, Katie, 5, to the event.

“This is her first time on a canoe. I just got into kayaking this year. This is like a fun adventure to get to see the river,” Vanditti said.

Steve Preston of Mercer, Pa., who assisted people in the canoes, said “It is important to reintroduce the public to the river.”

“Many people can’t believe we are in downtown Youngstown with it so peaceful and quiet along the river,” he said.

“We want to be able to get people familiar with the river,” Lin Bowden of Trumbull Canoe Trails said.

Felicia Armstrong of the Friends of the Mahoning River and chairwoman of the Riverfest, said with the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 event was canceled and in 2021, a smaller event took place at Canoe City in Leavittsburg.

“This year is like our comeback. It is a great way to have families come out and see the Mahoning River, which is the hidden gem of the Mahoning Valley. We want to change the stigma about the Mahoning River. We want people to see the value of the river and preserving what we have in our community,” Armstrong said.

She said members of the public can help take care of the river the same way they take care of their own yards and properties, explaining the wastershed into the river affects the quality. Armstrong said people need to understand that pesticides and fertilizers applied to their yards before it rains eventually end up in the river.

The event included more than 20 vendors, bands, children’s crafts and displays. Community groups, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations had displays that focused on the Mahoning River.

The Friends are planning other events this summer, including a tire cleanup along the river on July 23, summer children’s day camps with Boardman and Youngstown, and a program at the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles on June 25.

Mike Humes of Box Car Lounge II next to the park said Riverfest helps bring people from all over the area to Youngstown.

“We have had a lot of visitors from the Riverfest, which is great. We are planning a Dog Days of Summer in August,” he said.

Humes said anything that helps promote the river and local businesses is good for the area.

In addition to Riverfest, the Artists of the Rust Belt hosted an art show at the B&O Station nearby.

bcoupland@tribtoday.com

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