Franklin stone skipping champion Byars dies

Russ Byars throws in the 2017 Rock In River Fest/Pennsylvania Stone Skipping Championship in August at Franklin's Riverfront Park. (File photo by Richard Sayer)

Russ “Rock Bottom” Byars, a Franklin man known the world around for his stone skipping records, died Saturday at UPMC Northwest at the age of 54.

Byars regularly participated in the annual Rock In River Fest/Pennsylvania Stone Skipping Championship in Franklin’s Riverfront Park and set the Guinness World Record with 51 skips at the intersection of the Allegheny River and French Creek in 2007.

Following the new world record, Byars was featured on multiple international news outlets, radio and TV shows and documentaries.

His appearance in the media put Franklin’s annual stone skipping tournament on the map and garnered the attention outlets that included National Public Radio, CBS Sunday Morning and ESPN.

“The contribution that Russ made to his community cannot be understated, and his passing has touched the hearts of more than he ever realized,” said Franklin events coordinator Ronnie Beith.

Byars was also a regular contender at the national stone skipping championships on Mackinac Island, Michigan. He won the Pennsylvania Stone Skipping Tournament five times and the national tournament eight times.

A fundraising initiative has been organized to collect donations for a statue honoring Byars that will be placed in Riverfront Park.

Anyone interested in donating to the statue fund can call (814) 437-1619.

To read more about this year’s event which was dedicated to Byars, see The Photo Dude blog.