Nestled in the mountains of Western Maryland, the Youghiogheny River, also known as the Yough, is a major tributary of the mighty Monongahela River. This river has a long and rich history, dating back to the days when Native American tribes used its waters for transportation and fishing. Today, the Youghiogheny River remains an important cultural and recreational hub for the people of western Maryland. The “History of the Upper Yough is a narrative in two arcs,” according to http://historyoftheupperyough.com. “The first is a story about a river, a destination, and the people that make it special. It’s about a kayaking community that, over a span of fifty years, has formed around the river. It’s about a river gorge that is both rugged and accessible; where you can feel alone one minute and surrounded the next. And it’s about the people that surround you, the characters that have defined themselves by their achievements and mishaps, leaving lasting legacies behind.”
This history of the Youghiogheny River dates back to the pre-Columbian era when Native American tribes, such as the Shawnee, Delaware, and Seneca, inhabited the region. These tribes used the Youghiogheny River for religious and cultural ceremonies. In the 18th century, European settlers began to explore and settle the region, and the Youghiogheny River became an important trade route for goods such as timber, coal, and iron.
Along the Youghiogheny River there are numerous campsites and hiking trails along its banks. The river is also home to several species of fish, including smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, and brown trout. This excerpt of an article penned by local paddler Jesse “Shimmy” Shimrock in American Whitewater sums up the significance of this natural beauty. “There are countless stories to be told by others who have found their own peace along these riverbanks. The waters of this river are clean, the banks are filled with wildlife: otters, mink, beavers, squirrels, deer, fox, coyote, turtles. The canopy is home to bald eagles, osprey, herons, hawks, vultures, songbirds, and many others… keep this river protected for you and the generations ahead to enjoy. It’s essential… Keep the Yough Wild.”
During the 19th century, the Youghiogheny River became a major center of the American Industrial Revolution. With the construction of the Youghiogheny Dam further downstream in Pennsylvania in 1944, the river became a major source of hydroelectric power, and its waters were used to power the region’s factories and mills. The river was also used to transport goods and people between Pittsburgh and other major cities in the northeast.
The Youghiogheny River is an important part of Garrett County, Maryland’s economy, and culture. The river supports a thriving outdoor recreation industry with whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and camping among the most popular activities. The river also attracts tourists from all over the country, contributing to the local economy through spending on lodging, dining, and other services. During a recent presentation by kayaker and WVU graduate student, Mel Shafer, titled ‘Rad Rivers in Rad Places: Characterizing Historical and Future Whitewater Resources in Select Regions of the United States,’ she outlined the potential for economic effects of climate change upon waterways in different regions. According to the presentation data outdoor recreation accounted for $374.3 billion in 2019, or 1.8% of the current-dollar gross domestic product for the nation.
In addition to its economic importance, the Youghiogheny River is also a source of pride and identity for the people of Garrett County, who celebrate the river’s rich history and cultural significance through festivals, events, and other activities. As such, the Youghiogheny River is an integral part of Garrett County’s past, present, and future, and is cherished by the people who call this beautiful region home.
Today, the river is an important part of the local community, with numerous events, festivals, and gatherings centered around it. Visitors to Garrett County can experience this rich river culture by attending events like the annual Youghiogheny River Festival, which showcases local music, food, and crafts, or by exploring the river’s historical landmarks and natural beauty.
Beyond these events, the Youghiogheny River is a vibrant, recreational hub for outdoor enthusiasts throughout the region. The Yough river and its surrounding tributaries are a popular destination for kayaking and rafting.
Kayaking has come a long way since its early days as a means of transportation for indigenous peoples in the Arctic. Over the years, the sport has evolved into a thriving culture with its own set of customs, practices, and values. Today, kayaking is enjoyed by millions of people around the world, and the kayaker culture continues to evolve and grow.
One of the most significant changes in kayaker culture has been the shift from kayaking as a utilitarian activity to a recreational one. While kayaks were originally used by indigenous peoples for hunting and fishing, kayaking is now primarily enjoyed for its own sake. Kayakers explore waterways for the sheer pleasure of it, and the experience of being on the water is seen as a way to connect with nature and escape from the stresses of modern life.
Another major shift in kayaker culture has been the democratization of the sport. While kayaking was once seen as an elite activity, reserved for those with access to expensive gear and exclusive clubs, today’s kayakers come from all walks of life. Kayaking is now accessible to almost anyone, thanks to affordable equipment and community groups that provide instruction and support.
The advent of social media has also played a significant role in the evolution of kayaker culture. Online communities have made it easier than ever for kayakers to connect with one another, share tips and advice, and organize group trips. Social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube have also given kayakers a platform to share their experiences and showcase their skills.
The culture of kayaking has also become more diverse and inclusive. While the sport was once dominated by white males, kayaker culture today includes people of all races, genders, and backgrounds. Women, in particular, have made significant strides in the sport, with female kayakers now competing at the highest levels and organizing their own events and competitions.
In the recent decades, environmentalism has become a vital aspect of kayaker culture. As kayakers spend more time on the water, they have become more aware of the threats facing our waterways, from pollution and over development to climate change. Many kayakers now view themselves as stewards of the environment and take an active role in protecting our natural resources. It was not always this way. According to http://historyoftheupperyough.com/stories/kendall/, Superabundance was the myth of the early days of the Upper Yough dominated by loggers. In those days long before kayaking, “The idea that the world had more than enough resources for us to survive forever. And in resource rich Garrett County that meant taking the land for all it had.”
These days the river supports a variety of plant and animal species, including several species of migratory birds and endangered freshwater mussels. The river also provides habitat for an abundance of freshwater fish as well as the lesser-known Eastern Hellbender, a rare and endangered salamander.
Beyond the wildlife and the economic impact, the Youghiogheny River is simply a beautiful natural wonder that will continue to play an important role in Garrett County’s future. The river’s culture has evolved in numerous ways and is enjoyed by countless individuals from across the world.
Shimrock, who recently won the Upper Yough race and inherited the role of Sang Run Access Area Management, had this to say, “The Youghiogheny River is the ONLY Wild and Scenic River in the state of Maryland offering an unrivaled wilderness experience that is protected for future generations and accessible to all who visit.”
Written by Collen DuBose; Photo by Crede Calhoun