MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — Boaters can travel the Upper Monongahela River without hindrance for the first time in several years.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to reopen the Opekiska and Hildebrand locks for recreational use. The locks will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends for a total of 18 days during the summer.
The corps also has opened the Morgantown Lock on weekends.
The agreement between the corps, the Upper Monongahela River Association and the Monongalia County Commission will make the river more accessible, The Dominion Post (http://bit.ly/1F5zkzL) reported.
The corps closed the Opekiska and Hildebrand locks to recreational use in 2012 because of budget cuts. The Morgantown Lock previously was closed on weekends.
"I'm so excited, I can't stand it," Lana Smith of Fairmont told the newspaper. "We've been looking forward to this for a long time."
Smith lives along the Tygart Valley River, which feeds into the Monongahela River. She said she and her husband, Chad, own a pontoon boat, two WaveRunners and three ski boats.
"I hope someday they can get some kind of privatization in there and have a lock master there at all times, but I don't know if that will happen," she said.
Opening the locks on the weekends provides an opportunity to hold fishing tournaments. Hundreds of bass tournaments are held across the state but none are on the Upper Monongahela River, said Barry Pallay, president of the river association.
"One multi-state bass tournament, and we plan to have at least one this summer, can bring $80,000 to the region," he said.
A coalition of local entities contributed $36,000 to keep the locks open during the summer, Pallay said. They include the Monongalia and Marion county commissions, the Monongalia County Development Authority, Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce, Marion County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau, Granville, Westover and Morgantown.
The first weekend opening of the locks under the agreement occurred last Saturday and Sunday.
Information from: The Dominion Post, http://www.dominionpost.com