This past fall American Whitewater met with Ohiopyle State Park managers to discuss possible updates to their whitewater paddling regulations. The first topic was to change the rules governing raft sizes at different water levels to recognize the capabilities of self-bailing rafts. Shorter self-bailing boats will now be allowed to run the river at high water. Some small changes to the regulations will make Ohiopyle Falls more accessible to paddlers. A change in the way the gauge is interpreted should make the falls "legal" on more days.
Although whitewater paddlers are only one part of the vast public that visits the park, every effort was made to accommodate them while avoiding user conflicts and safety hazards. Special thanks goes to Ken Bisbee, Ohiopyle State Park Operations Manager and John Hallas, a former Ohiopyle State Park Operations Manager who is now Director of State Parks.
New Regulations for Self-Bailing Rafts on the Lower Youghiogheny River
The following wording will be used in determining whether a watercraft would be permitted to launch:
3 Feet to 4:
Self-bailing rafts with a minimum length of 8 feet shall be permitted. All rafts shall be of durable material and construction suitable for class III to IV whitewater use. If rafts are not self-bailing, 11.220 requirements for the appropriate water level will apply
4 feet and above:
Self-bailing rafts with a minimum length of 12 feet shall be permitted. All rafts shall be of durable material and construction suitable for class III to IV whitewater use. If rafts are not self-bailing, 11.220 requirements for the appropriate water level will apply.
3 Feet and above:
Self-bailing rafts with a minimum length of 8 feet shall be permitted. All rafts shall be of durable material and construction suitable for class III to IV whitewater use. If rafts are not self-bailing, 11.220 requirements for the appropriate water level will apply.
Private Boater Ohiopyle Falls Access Guidelines
Changes for 2018 are underlined
1. Prior to launching for each falls run, all boaters must register at the Lower Youghiogheny Launch Window on SR 381 unless otherwise posted. A launch permit, governed by the private boater quota reservation system, is required during applicable periods. Boaters may register for more than one run at a time.
2. Water Level must be below 1.9 feet on the USGS Gage at the Lower Youghiogheny Launch in Ohiopyle. Although the gage can be read to the hundredths, for the purposes of falls access only the tenth’s column will be calculated. (1.89 would be considered as 1.8)
3. Using the Lower Youghiogheny Launch to take-out is prohibited. The falls becomes the first rapid in the loop and boaters shall continue down river and take-out either at the Loop Take-Out on Ferncliff or Bruner Run Take-Out.
4. Runs over the falls will be permitted: April 1st through the weekend before Thanksgiving with the last permit issued or sold prior to end of the posted office hours. Last run of the falls must be made so that boaters will be off the river prior to sunset.
5. Access (put-in) will be from the river right shore only (Ferncliff side). Boaters access the river right put in via Ferncliff trail. The put-in is marked with a sign and is located downstream of the buoy line anchor points. Access will be prohibited from the Falls Day-Use Area (river left) except during Falls Running Events governed by Special Activities Agreements.
6. Boaters are prohibited from running Ohiopyle Falls alone (solo boater/party of one). Minimum group size is three. 2nd or 3rd boaters do not have to run the falls and is/are included for the minimum group size for providing safety from shore (above or below) or boat (below) the falls. Shore safeties shall wear a PFD, helmet and have a throw bag to effectively execute a rescue.
7. Only single and double occupancy kayaks and canoes designed and fully outfitted for whitewater use are permissible. Unguided Liveries/Rental Craft are prohibited. Rafts are prohibited.
8. Boaters may scout the falls from beyond the warning signs during open hours but must wear PFD and helmet at all times.