PITTSBURGH – From patrolling the waters during the annual Fourth of July boat night parade to installing fish habitats alongside Boy Scout groups, park rangers and staff at the Youghiogheny River Lake are constantly working with partners, volunteers, and state agencies to improve recreational opportunities for the public.
“It makes it easy to partner with them because they always have a smile on their face,” said Carol Gulya, one of the directors of the Friends for the Youghiogheny River Lake.
The Friends for the Yough, a nonprofit group, nominated the Youghiogheny staff for a national partnership award, which they won this year.
“They are just wonderful to work with, and we just adore them,” Gulya said of the Youghiogheny staff.
The Public Lands Alliance awarded Youghiogheny River Lake’s staff and the Friends with the 2023 Partnership Award. The prestigious award previously recognized iconic parks such as Yellowstone and Blue Ridge Mountain national parks.
“It’s a very special recognition,” Gulya said.
According to the PLA website, the award celebrates the best public lands partnerships and programs nationwide in preserving public lands and enriching visitors’ experiences.
“We developed a strong partnership with groups who helped us accomplish our goals far better and easier than our staff could accomplish on our own,” said Vince Klinkner, the resource manager at Youghiogheny River Lake.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, a federal agency, operates the Youghiogheny River Lake and dam. The reservoir’s primary purpose is to mitigate downstream flooding by holding back water during heavy rains. Throughout the year, thousands of visitors enjoy the lake and lands for boating, camping, hiking, fishing, and other recreation.
“Our partners’ effort and their support are critical to our successful operations and management of our public lands,” Klinkner said.
The Friends group is a community-focused nonprofit that helps raise funds and organize volunteer events to preserve natural resources and improve recreational opportunities at Youghiogheny River Lake.
Throughout 2022, park rangers at Youghiogheny hosted community, safety, and cleanup events with different organizations, like local schools, volunteers, and Pennsylvania state partners.
“There are so many people who are invested in helping us. You’ll hear stories of people who have been coming here for 30 or 40 years, or it’s their children. They have a long legacy of being here. Youghiogheny is part of their childhood or part of their life, either through camping or fishing on the lake, so they are vested and want to give back,” Klinkner said.
The annual Special Recreation Day is one of the year’s most significant events at Youghiogheny. Hundreds of children and adults with special needs come from dozens of schools and care facilities to enjoy outdoor activities tailored just for them.
The Youghiogheny staff works with the Confluence Lions Club, the Friends for the Yough and other partners to coordinate the big day by providing fishing lessons, lake boat rides, hayrides, outdoor games, lunch, and other activities to hundreds of attendees. This year and last year, officers from the Pennsylvania Game Commission brought a live bear to teach the public about wildlife preservation.
“Our partnerships are so important. There is so much we could not do without you all,” said Col. Adam Czekanski, the Pittsburgh District commander, to a group of volunteers and representatives before handing out certificates of appreciation for their efforts during the event.
Last year, the Friends of the Yough helped raise funds for a new life jacket rack that includes 50 personal flotation devices for visitors to borrow, and they worked with a grant program to purchase a new kayak launch, making it easier for rowers to get in and out of the water safely. The Friends also submitted a grant request for solar lighting at one of the lake’s parking lots. During National Public Lands Day, they helped clean trash and plant 32 trees along with volunteers.
During the summer, park rangers host courtesy dock inspections and water safety events to ensure boaters stay safe on the lake. Even in the wintertime or during the cool early spring months, the Youghiogheny staff remains busy improving visitor experiences.
“We have the opportunity to help somebody and serve the public every day,” Klinkner said. “That’s what we’re here to do. That’s something that we take great pride in. My motivation is to leave a lasting impression of our facilities and public lands. Thanks to our partnerships, we can do that.”
“Headwaters Highlights” is part of a story series highlighting the facilities or teams that make the Pittsburgh District’s mission possible.
Pittsburgh District’s 26,000 square miles include portions of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Maryland, and southwestern New York. It has more than 328 miles of navigable waterways, 23 navigation locks and dams, 16 multi-purpose flood-control reservoirs, 42 local flood-protection projects, and other projects to protect and enhance the nation’s water resources infrastructure and environment.