Eric Harder

Youghiogheny Riverkeeper

I’m Eric, your Youghiogheny Riverkeeper.

I grew up in central Kansas. Flat, hot, and windy – I should say hot wind – was the neverending summer story. Heading to the community swimming pool, for many midwestern towns, is an everyday event. The brutal bike ride, with a headwind, was the only thing keeping me from the crystal clear, highly chlorinated paradise. It is here, the Hesston Kansas swimming pool, where I learned to swim.

Swimming is not always fun and can sometimes be dangerous. In my mid twenties, I became a raft guide and wanted to learn how to whitewater kayak. I experienced countless swims during my beginning days. I paddled more difficult stretches as my skill level increased. Typically, the more difficult…the more dangerous. Consequences of falling out of your kayak (swimming) include being stuck or pinned on submerged logs, flushed into crevices or sieves between boulders, or taking an extra long swim through multiple rapids or drops. Those who have rafted or kayaked in Ohiopyle may have joined the Youghiogheny Swim Team. Proud members, raise your hands?!!

Becoming a whitewater rafting guide was a turning point in my life. From creating lifelong friendships with fellow guides in training to meeting my future wife to instilling a sense of stewardship for outdoor recreation, guiding has provided direction. I never imagined I’d live in Pennsylvania, but I’m glad I do. I became your Youghiogheny Riverkeeper three years ago and look forward to many more. I call Ohiopyle my home. It is just one of the many amazing places in our Laurel Highlands that need protecting.

Swimming will always be a big part of my life. My kids love the water, I still guide rafts, I swam out of my kayak last year (ugh), and just last week we slid down the Natural Waterslides on Meadow Run for the first time.  Although, I try to be particular about where I swim. I typically avoid contact with rivers after large rain events due to the presence of bacteria. Bacteria related illnesses/issues from contaminated water are common and include symptoms like stomach discomfort, vomiting, and rashes/itching. Check for bacteria levels at some popular places within the Youghiogheny Watershed. Discharges from mining, landfills, or other industrial activities should also be avoided. These are hard to spot. If you have concerns about your favorite swimming spot, feel free to contact me at

As your Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, it’s my job to defend the Yough.  I conduct water sampling to track the source of pollution, monitor permitted discharge points, speak for the river and the communities that depend on it, and I pick up lots of tires from the river. All of this could only be accomplished with the support from the rest of the Mountain Watershed Association staff, the partnership with Waterkeeper Alliance, and the loyalty of our dedicated members.