The mighty, mighty Monongahela.

I’ve been staring at it since I moved to Morgantown four years ago. I’ve run alongside it on the Mon River Trail North and biked alongside it on the Mon River Trail South. I’ve had beer overlooking it at Wings Ole and pizza overlooking it at Mountain State (likely washed down with more beer). I’ve visited Pittsburgh several times, and always enjoy a walk at the great confluence, watching the Monongahela and the Allegheny join together to form the Ohio.

I’ve driven over the Mon countless times, but until recently, I’d never been on it.  I had the opportunity to join the Morgantown Area Paddlers and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy on a joint paddling trip. I was lucky enough to be in the same canoe as my friend LeJay Graffious, there as a representative of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. The group–around 20 boats strong–started at the new Van Voorhis Landing launch and paddled north.

As we traveled north, LeJay pointed out great blue herons, kingfisher, wood ducks, and green heron. I learned the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly. We saw a tugboat pushing coal upriver, a few fishermen, but mostly just enjoyed the easy water and the company of fellow paddlers. Together, we all marveled at the comparison of looking north and south from the southern end of Fort Martin Power Station. South towards Morgantown was a great wild section of the Mon with an impressive band of wetland vegetation on the west side of the river; North towards Point Marion was a hulking power plant, belching gallons of smoke and steam into the otherwise clear sky.

The group made it to Crooked Run, with one member spotting an otter and another finding a black snake camouflaging itself in the branches of a tree, just a foot or so off the surface of the water. While resting our arms in Crooked Run, I learned that all bits of the Cattail plant are edible (if you catch them at the right part of the season and know how to prepare them) and saw a molting red-tailed hawk circling above.



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Our paddle back to the launch was straight into a strong headwind, and it was good, hard work. On the way, LeJay and I spotted a grey squirrel swimming across the river. If that little squirrel could paddle its way across the river, with all that wind, surely we could make it back to the launch (and we did)!

On the short drive home, with the White Stripes’s Tiny Acorns rolling around in my head, I reflected on my first venture on the Mon. She proved herself just as mighty as I assumed: mighty full of creatures and plants to learn and mighty sure to leave my arms sore tomorrow.

Eliza Newland is from the Appalchian foothills of Georgia and works at the Watts Museum in Morgantown.

 

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