The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 4, 2013

Whitewater weekends: 15 releases on Stonycreek start Saturday

JOHNSTOWN — Spring might be running a little late, but whitewater season is coming early this year on the Stonycreek River.

Hundreds of paddling enthusiasts will likely be on the Stonycreek this weekend to experience the first of 15 whitewater releases the Benscreek Canoe Club has scheduled for 2013.

“This will be the earliest we’ve started – and really, it’ll be our first full season of releases,” club member Steve Podratsky said. “We’re excited. We’ll be kicking off the season really hard.”

They’ll have reason to celebrate. The Cambria Somerset Authority, which operates the dam, received word Thursday that a long-sought change to a state permit was granted, allowing the authority to regularly release up to 3,740 gallons of water – or 500 cubic feet per second – down the Stonycreek between April and October.

Until now, the canoe club, formed decades ago to promote local boating and area waterways, and CSA had to ask the state Department of Environmental Protection for special approval or annual allocations for whitewater releases.

“We’ve been working on that for years,” CSA manager Earl Waddell said. “We’ll pretty much be seeing releases every other week now ... as long as the water levels (at the dam) are all right.”

The amended permit is valid until 2030.

For the canoe club, the releases are invaluable during spring and summer months, Podratsky said.

For years, the group has scheduled paddling opportunities, as well as the annual mid–May Stonycreek Rendezvous, during the wet season.

Now the club will have releases as a springtime backup when river levels drop. And, barring droughts, they’ll be able to continue having releases into the summer, keeping the Stonycreek’s Class III-plus rapids flowing at a time when other whitewater destinations typically are drying up, Podratsky said.

“That’s important,” he added, noting kayak and canoe crowds in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and other areas between have no trouble making the day trip to paddle in western Pennsylvania.

The club spreads the word about the Stonycreek, recognized as the state’s 2012 River of the Year, through its social media and website, benscreekcanoeclub.com.

Despite a few scheduling issues last year – primarily due to repairs at the Quemahoning Reservoir – the club quickly learned that some whitewater enthusiasts drove four or five hours for a trip down the Stonycreek. They often spent a night and then headed elsewhere for a day, Podratsky said.

The club estimates that 200 to 300 kayakers and canoeists typically paddled the Stonycreek on release weekends last year. Hundreds more made the trip for special events like the annual Rendezvous. And more than half arrived from distances greater than 70 miles away last year – a statistic that surprised even Podratsky, the club’s former president.

“When we did studies 10 years ago, we were hoping it’d be more like 1 in 3 from outside the region,” he said. “What we’re seeing, it’s great.”

He’s hopeful that the river, and area, will see a 10 to 15 percent increase in paddlers on weekends this year.

“I think it does make a difference,” Podratsky said.

“Maybe it’s not making or breaking the businesses in town, but I think it’s certainly an extra boost.”

Go with the flow

Whitewater releases on the Stonycreek River (subject to change in drought conditions) are scheduled on the following weekends:

• Saturday and Sunday, and April 20-21.

• May 4-5 and 17-19.  

• June 1-2, 15-16 and 29-30.

• July 13-14 and 27-28.

• Aug. 10-11 and 24-25.

• Sept. 7-8 and 21-22.

• Oct. 5-6 and 19-20.

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