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Ohiopyle residents struggling under heavy flow of park visitors as borough infrastructure falters

Ohiopyle residents struggling under heavy flow of park visitors as borough infrastructure falters
Ohiopyle residents struggling under heavy flow of park visitors as borough infrastructure falters 04:19

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - It's a place where many Pittsburghers go for relaxation and recreation on weekends: Ohiopyle State Park.

With its miles of hiking and biking trails and its whitewater rapids on the Yough River, it's a gem of the Laurel Highlands.

But folks in the tiny borough, nestled at the center of those thousands of acres, say they're struggling under the heavy flow of park visitors, putting pressure on their infrastructure.

And they told KDKA-TV investigator Erika Stanish they need your help.

Seventy miles down the turnpike from Pittsburgh is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Pennsylvania: a state park that attracts a million visitors every year.

"We see people from all over the world. All over the United States, all over the world," Pamela Kruse, the owner of Falls Market, said.

Drawing cyclists on the Great Allegheny Passage, hikers on the Laurel Highland trails, rafters and kayakers in the Youghiogheny River, and folks taking a stroll through the small borough inside the park.

"Meeting their best friends or even celebrating marriage or engagements here. It's just pure excitement. I hear stories every single time they see the word 'Ohiopyle,'" Abby Greenbaum said. Greenbaum organizes the yearly Youghtoberfest event.

But Ohiopyle has a "dirty" secret.

"Our sewage system unfortunately can't handle the millions of people that come here to see this beautiful area," Greenbaum added.

The Ohiopyle borough has fewer than 20 full-time residents. It is fully surrounded by the state park, an arrangement unique in Pennsylvania.

And while the visitors are coming to the park, they're also coming to the borough, renting bikes and kayaks from white water adventures, snacking on ice cream and french fries from Falls Market, and using the bathrooms.

"We've had issues with the sewage treatment plant for as long as I've been in town, overflow events or too much water going into the system at on time," Kruse said.

The borough and the state park use the same sewage system, but only one of them is on the hook to pay for it. And it's not the park. As it turns out, the large state park is considered a customer of the small borough's sewage system.

"The state park doesn't handle things that are in the private domain, which is where the sewage system lands," Kruse added.

Ohiopyle Borough has been under a 'consent order' from the state Department of Environmental Protection since September 2019 to deal with repeated unauthorized releases of untreated sewage water into the Yough River.

While they haven't had an unauthorized release in a few years, they're still under the decree because they haven't completed several of the corrective actions required.

The state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says paying to fix the sewer system is simply not an option for the agency.

But in a statement to KDKA, a spokesperson said, "DCNR will continue to be a positive partner and work with Ohiopyle Borough to ensure the success of one of the top outdoor recreation destinations in the commonwealth."

Ohiopyle Borough leaders say that means the cost to update the facility and bring it into compliance, rests on their small population, and they're not exactly flush with cash.

"It's about $630,000 is what they said, and we could do the overhaul on the plant, and we wouldn't have the issues we keep having," Kruse said.

With the state park saying, it's washed its hands, Ohiopyle is now turning to its many visitors with the hopes of raising money at the first-ever Youghtoberfest this weekend.

"We're hoping to just bring people here to help raise funds for the cause of fixing our sewage system," said Greenbaum.

On Saturday, Sept. 30, Youghtoberfest will take over Ohiopyle with live music, local beer and cider vendors, and dozens of local artists. Organizers hope the festival will bring in some of those many visitors who love Ohiopyle, and open the spigot to increase the flow of funding.

The festival is happening this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are on sale now on Ohiopyle borough's Facebook page, or you can purchase them the day of the festival.

Ohiopyle leaders are also hoping to catch the attention of the state's newly appointed Director of Outdoor Recreation, who they say would be welcome for a visit to the borough to see the challenges they're facing.

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