Owner: Allegheny Outfitters is part of the solution for responsibly enjoying outdoors

Comments from a Friday, Aug. 3 Times Observer article, “Hemlock Road’s growing garbage problem,” have sparked a response.

Piper VanOrd, owner of Allegheny Outfitters — a Warren business which rents canoes and kayaks –was surprised to see her store’s name in a negative light in the article stemming from a public Council of Governments (COG) meeting of township supervisors.

Allegheny National Forest Bradford District Ranger Rich Hatfield told the COG recently that complaints have been coming in regarding people who are using the pull-off area less than a mile from the Dam as a place to launch kayaks and canoes. The complaints, he explained, center on people leaving garbage – as well as human waste – in the area.

He pointed out that there is a launch at Big Bend managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directly across the river and said that there are some people thinking incorrectly that there is a permit or fee required for the use of that launch, implying they were using this area to launch instead.

Glade Township Supervisor Dave Sedon, whose township maintains the parking area, said that he’s heard that the Corps of Engineers’ launch “is the launch for Allegheny Outfitters. They’re taking up a lot of time and space unloading.”

VanOrd said Allegheny Outfitters doesn’t want to be “attached” to a story about pollution and negligence, “even in a roundabout way.”

VanOrd said Allegheny Outfitters is actually part of the solution.

“Reading that Mr. Sedon may be implying the reason there is a garbage problem on Hemlock because he ‘heard’ AO was taking up a lot of time and space at Big Bend boat launch immediately tells me he’s never spent a summer Saturday up there,” said VanOrd. “It can be chaotic, but it’s by no means all AO. We’ve counted as many as 13 vehicles down in the boat launch at one time, and couldn’t tell you the last time there weren’t at least six vehicles down in there at once on a Saturday, every hour, until at least 2 p.m.

“Having to drive in and drive out can be a challenge,” she said. “But it has always been our practice to be proactive. Practice patience, don’t gripe and groan about vehicles in the launch — lend a hand. You can ask anyone that’s used that launch on a Saturday when it’s congested and they’ll tell you we offer to help unload their boats as well, to keep the flow of traffic going. Many hands make light work. Our guys and gals hustle all summer to make sure everyone gets where they need to go. It’s a lot of physical work. Nobody wants to get in and out of that launch faster than we do.

“We’ve also been proactive in working with the Corps of Engineers to document congestion over the years to make improvements,” said VanOrd. “A whole host of partners have come to the table to accomplish some major improvements — benches have been installed and riprap has been replaced with cement to make the usable launch area much larger. The ultimate goal is a horseshoe launch so folks can easily drive through. That is a USACE project we hope to see brought to fruition in the years ahead.

“I’ll also add, there’s a large number of folks that think Big Bend is a launch with either a fee or a requirement for a launch permit,” said VanOrd. “We answer that question almost daily. It does not require a launch permit and there is no fee.”

VanOrd said the goal of Allegheny Outfitters is and has always been for more people to safely and responsibly use the river.

“And for the record, the majority of our customers don’t even know Hemlock Road runs along the river,” she said. “Our job at AO has always been to help folks connect. We try our best to express everything this river and forest has given us, and I don’t mean that in a business sense. Personally, the Allegheny River has given me so much over the past 12 years as it slowly flows 128 miles downriver through my hometown and behind my home. Laughter with my kids. Solace in very hard times. Physical challenges to test my mettle. Curiosity of its inhabitants. Solid footing in times of confusion. It’s been the catalyst for many friendships I hold dear, and many stories that have made my cheeks hurt from laughter of my aunts and uncles as children and young adults along its banks. And our forest — we’ve collected so many tiny moments under the canopy of the ANF with friends and family while hiking and backpacking. It’s always been our mission to give back so they can be just as loved by those generations that will stumble upon them long after we are all gone. These are the things we try to pass along to folks that paddle and hike with us.”

VanOrd is a Leave No Trace Master Educator. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a national organization that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. The Center accomplishes this mission by delivering cutting-edge education and research to millions of people across the country every year.

“There are seven principles to practicing Leave No Trace (plan ahead, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impact, respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors,” said VanOrd, “and we work them into every safety speech — but helping folks fall in love with being out there, helping them build a relationship with the river and forest, that’s how we truly make change. We find, for the most part, those principles happen naturally when people appreciate what an incredible playground we have in our backyard.

“Everything we do has an impact on these places we love to explore — float, fish, hunt, hike, bike, climb or camp. We may be able to narrow this problem on Hemlock Road to paddlers and fishermen, but that’s not the only place this happens. There’s a pull-off just up the road on Hemlock that we’ve tackled each year during river clean-up, far exceeding our riverbanks, on a steep hillside. Big Four Road has a dump site that won’t go away. The pull-off area at Tanbark Trail has an issue as well. As a community of volunteers, we’ve done an incredible job of picking up after ourselves and others during river clean-up, but these issues remain. I’m not sure what the answer is, and certainly feel for landowners that have to deal with it. I’d be more than happy to join a team of people to try and address it.

“I’ve always told my kids, ‘you are who you truly are when nobody’s looking. Be the kid that picks up a piece of trash, don’t just step over it. Always try to leave things better than when you found them. No different than our words. We get to use a bunch of them every day. Choose them wisely, the right ones can have such a positive impact.'”