Friends of the Mahoning River finally show off river’s beauty

YOUNGSTOWN – Mother Nature could no longer stand in the way of a group of paddling enthusiasts as they christened a path from Girard to Youngstown on the Mahoning River.

Mahohing River Paddlers and Friends of the Mahoning have spent years spreading the word that the formerly polluted body of water has become a local gem, and Sunday was a perfect opportunity to show that off.

”If I thought (the Mahoning River) was dirty and nasty, believe me, I would not be in it,” Chuck Miller of Friends of the Mahoning River said. ”People still have this image of the Mahoning being a dirty river, but they have to get out and see it.

”This is a really great place, and for me, I love that I don’t have to drive four hours anymore to kayak when I have this right in my back yard.”

Sunday’s trip was the third try for the organization, as stormy weather had canceled the group’s two previous attempts to showcase the river.

Girard resident Don Rex of the Friends of the Mahoning River said the overnight storm and early rain Sunday almost forced another cancellation.

”We left (for the trip) at around 11 a.m. and the weather was great, but there was some rain that had me nervous at around 9 a.m.,” Rex joked. ”We ended up having a bunch of people cancel because they were worried about the weather, but it ended up just being a wonderful day.”

Despite the cancellations, seven people made the first group paddle from Girard to downtown Youngstown. According to organizers, the six-mile trip took slightly less than two hours.

The trip ended at the B&O Station in downtown Youngstown, where the group had previously installed a launch dock.

Girard resident Dave Sura made his first trip down the river, joining wife Joanne and Rex in a three-person canoe. Seeing a more natural side of the Mahoning Valley for the first time, Sura said, was a remarkable experience.

”It was really neat to be able to get a different perspective on the entire area as we went down the river,” Sura said. ”I’ve lived in this area 30 years now, and I really never thought anything like this existed.”

Sura’s reaction is what Miller and the Friends of the Mahoning River are hoping to see more of, as the group continues to preach the message of a resurrected natural treasure.

”The first time people come onto the river, they’re really impressed and it starts to feel like you’re in the wilderness,” Miller said. ”They almost can’t believe that there was a city built around all of this.”

charris@tribtoday.com