Yough Defense Party – The Early Days

This year will be the 12th Annual Yough Defense Party.  The party started with an idea by   Ohiopyle’s own Scott Bortree. “Can we buy a keg to raise money for Mountain Watershed’s legal fees?”  The Curry Mine, a strip mine on the banks of the Yough, had been proposed and MWA was the only organization with legal standing to fight it.  Ken Gfroerer was there and started the idea of expanding from a keg to a party.

The first year’s efforts raised well over $10,000.  Check out this blog written by Ken Gfroerer in response to the overwhelming support,   

Paradigm Shift in coal country …or is that “Yough country” ?

Apparently the coal companies aren’t the only ones with deep pockets! Less than a month ago, an appeal for donations to the legal defense fund of the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper went out in an email to previous supporters in an effort to raise funds to cover past and upcoming legal expenses related to opposition of Amerikohl’s proposed 500 acre strip mine on the banks of the Youghiogheny. Scott Bortree, a retired Ohiopyle, PA businessman had an idea. Rather than send in a check, why not assemble a few other donors and use seed money to throw a party and rally an even larger group of folks?

Last Thursday evening more than 200 “defenders of the Yough” descended upon the Falls City Pub in Ohiopyle to raise over $15,000 for the “Yough Defense Fund.” While not organizers of the private event, Mountain Watershed, home of the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, set up the Yough Defense Fund because it is the only entity with legal standing in the fight against the coal company’s proposed mine at this time. “This mining application had the effect of poking a hornet’s nest,” Scott said. “Usually when the DEP or the Zoning Board has a hearing for this sort of thing anywhere from zero to less than a dozen people typically show up. We had over a hundred people show for the DEP hearing on the Curry mine”.

Despite being a weeknight, supporters drove from Washington DC, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland and Pittsburgh to attend Thursday’s “Yough Defense Party.” Checks came in from people from Maine to Washington state and many other states in between, who couldn’t attend. “The Yough has a huge and loyal fan base,” said Kara Weld, owner of Immersion Research in Confluence, PA. “I even had friends from other countries email me about supporting the cause!”

One raft guide sent in a check for $5, and we had another (ex) raft guide send in one for $1000…and every value in between,” Bortree explained. “We had fly fishermen donate fly packages to our silent auction worth hundreds of dollars.” Indeed local businesses donated nearly $10,000 worth of silent auction items alone!

“This is about defending the sustainable and critical tourism economy of Fayette County from incremental devaluation” said Cathy McCollom of the Allegheny Trail Alliance. “Hundreds of regional businesses employ thousands of area workers based on the tourism economy in the Laurel Highlands/Yough Corridor. It just doesn’t make sense to attack the golden goose !”

Indeed, it is the natural beauty of the region that makes it a special place, unlike the cities, suburbs, or even other rural, yet less resource rich areas, from which visitors “escape.” The draw of unspoiled nature creates the tourism lifeblood for local business. And, the Youghiogheny River is a cornerstone to that foundation of natural resources which makes our region “worth visiting.” Regardless of one’s shade of “green,” why would any local business owner be willing to stand silent and allow the chipping away at that foundation for just a few coal mining jobs that last maybe a couple years? Interestingly the event drew people of all political stripes and a diversity of views on energy and the environment. But attendees seemed to agree, if we really have 250+ years of coal reserves in this country, we need to be a little pickier about where to allow strip mining….and the banks of the Youghiogheny seems like it should not be the first choice!

The event benefited from funding or promotional support from an amazing array of organizations that all were readily rallied to defend the Yough: Trout Unlimited, American Whitewater, Venture Outdoors, American Rivers, Allegheny Trail Alliance (Great Allegheny Passage), Friends of Ohiopyle, Three Rivers Paddling Club, Philadelphia Canoe Club, Sierra Club, PA Environmental Council, Explorers Club of Pittsburgh, and the list goes on and on.

No one should ever underestimate the passion generated by those who experience the Yough River, nor the numbers, diversity and reach of those fans. Apparently, they have some deep pockets as well. So, perhaps the paradigm has shifted for resource exploitive development in the Yough watershed? Eric Martin, owner of Wilderness Voyageurs, which employs over 100 seasonal personnel who introduce thousands of visitors to the river each year, summarized, “If the Youghiogheny could rally this small portion of her loyal fan base in just 3 weeks of preparation, imagine the power of this mighty river over the long haul!”

There is a long list of supporters who made it happen in the early days but without these individuals, who knows what could have happened!  They paved the way for 12 years of successful Yough Defense Parties.  

  • Eric & Kasia Martin
  • Lynne Martin
  • Brian Galicka
  • Scott Bortree
  • Dennis Carey
  • Ken Gfroerer
  • Scott & Maureen Patton
  • Vicki Marietta
  • Diane Bauerle
  • Lisa Smith
  • Jess Hartman 
  • Clark Slater 
  • And to Krissy Kasserman (Dedicated Former Youghiogheny Riverkeeper)