Plan a river excursion to the Mon River’s wilder upper pools this summer.
A decade ago, in response to a long decline in commercial barge traffic on the upper Mon River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers curtailed the operation of the Opekiska and Hildebrand locks upriver—the only two locks south of Morgantown, toward Fairmont. It was a loss for recreational boaters and fishers.
There is a small upside: The Opekiska and Hildebrand pools—pools on dammed rivers are named for the dams that form them—are little-traveled and probably more wild now than they’ve been in a century.
This summer, the Corps is operating the locks on a limited schedule for passage between points downriver and these wilder upper pools. Locking through allows for a much more complete adventure on the river, and experiencing the process gives you a greater appreciation for the magnitude of the national project that dammed major rivers for navigation and commerce.
Opekiska (“Okepisky,” to locals) and Hildebrand will be open this summer from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 12, 19, and 20; July 4 and 24; August 22; and September 4 and 5. The Morgantown lock, the one near the Jeep dealership, is always open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and downriver locks, the ones north toward Pittsburgh, are open 24/7.
Recreational boaters can “lock through” the dams in either direction at no charge. Here’s how:
- Carry a line of 10 feet or so for a kayak or canoe, or longer for a larger boat, as well as a cell phone and, of course, life jackets.
- On approach and departure, stay between the red and green buoys to avoid dam-related currents.
- Call the lockmaster: Morgantown lockmaster, 304.292.1885; Hildebrand lockmaster, 304.983.2300; Opekiska lockmaster, 304.366.4224. It even can’t hurt to call ahead and let the lockmaster know to expect you.
- Following the lockmaster’s instructions, stay behind designated points until the lockmaster beckons.
- Secure your boat to the floating pins in the lock chamber wall, and enjoy the ride as the chamber fills or empties to the level of the other side. If you’re locking through with other boats, one ties on and others hold each other’s boats.
- Passage takes about 20 minutes.
The last lock-through is 30 minutes before closing—don’t be late.
For more information, call the Point Marion lockmaster at 724.725.5259. To find fellow paddlers, visit Morgantown Area Paddlers on Facebook.