MORGANTOWN — Members of the Morgantown Area Paddlers used the just-finished handicapped-accessible kayak and canoe launch and newest access point to the Monongahela River for the first time on Tuesday.
The launch is just past the Walnut Street boat ramp and was added as part of the renovations to the Ruby Amphitheater, Riverfront Park and Walnut Street Landing, according to Interim City Manager Emily Muzzarelli.
“I am thrilled with the outcome of this project,” she said.
Its completion also means there is a good access point to the Mon River every five or six miles from Fairmont to Star City, Mary Wimmer, organizer with the MAP said. That kind of access has been a goal of the organization since it was founded in 2015 to encourage flat water boating.
It’s also the first handicapped-accessible launch in the area, Wimmer said. There are two signs with visual instructions on how a person in a wheelchair can use the launch to easily and safely get into their vessel.
And for paddlers who don’t start their trip at Walnut Street but want to stop for lunch in downtown Morgantown there are six uniquely designed kayak and canoe lockers.
The ventilated lockers each hold one canoe or two-three kayaks, are free to us and can be locked with any padlock, Wimmer said. They allows people to safely store their boat and gear while getting something to eat or shopping downtown.
Wimmer hopes the lockers encourage people to spend money in Morgantown and help the city’s economy and is looking to add lockers to Star City and the Wharf District.
Anyone who does stop at the landing might see some extra people at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Park.
“The project has exceeded our expectations. The addition of the sunshade to the Ruby Amphitheater, the added restroom facility, and renovated depot allow for this to become a true entertainment destination,” Muzzarelli said. “Additionally, by slightly realigning the trail, creating a plaza area, adding a drinking fountain, bike racks, and the kayak launch, the use of the area as a park has grown exponentially. We are thrilled with the results.”
The project was completed with $4.1 million from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust and an additional $200,000 from the trust for additional lighting, according to Muzzarelli.
MAP has held over 150 outings since it was formed and about a half-dozen since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Wimmer said.
The sport is perfect for social distancing – no mask required once you’re off the shore and floating on the water. It’s also easy to learn, Wimmer said. Unlike whitewater kayaking, there is no need to know how to roll.
After social distancing, the city plans to hold an opening event for the park.