Improvements set for West End Marina

The boat ramp at Oil City's West End Marina, created in the early 1970s at the site of a former sand and gravel dredging company, is a busy location once boating season begins on the Allegheny River. The city is making some changes at the marina with the project, one that includes primitive campsites, due to start next spring. (By Richard Sayer)

By JUDITH O. ETZEL – Contributing writer

A popular Oil City venue for bike trail users and river enthusiasts is due for enhancements with an even greater rehabilitation project set for the future.

The site is the West End Marina, the former Oil City Sand and Gravel Co. site just below Front Street on the city’s South Side.

Converted to a public marina in the early 1970s, the 7-acre tract was a place of “great shifting sand dunes, scraggly undergrowth and discarded iron tubing and cable,” noted The Derrick in announcing the riverside project in 1971.

In a $50,000 project financed by the Pennsylvania Fish Commission, the land soon boasted an access road, parking areas, boat-launching ramp, floating boarding dock, mooring cables and landscaping.

When it was dedicated in August 1972, Mayor Wayne Blyler, who had been an owner of the sand and gravel firm, said the marina was unique in that it was “adjacent to the longest and deepest man-made eddy, due to dredging, between the headwaters of the Allegheny River and East Brady.”

“The recreation area has been developed from land reuse, from a former industrial site and one of the most beautiful eddies in the Allegheny River as a result of commercial dredging,” said the mayor.

Since then, several attempts have been made to refurbish the marina.

In 1994, a waterfront committee of the volunteer Oil City Revitalization Coalition solved a silt accumulation problem at a launching ramp by raising money to build a second ramp that entered directly into the river.

Committee chair Barbara Perlstein also advocated for the development of a biking and walking trail connection at the marina and suggested campsites be developed.

The West End Marina has continued as a favorite site to launch boats into the river. It has also functioned as an event site, including 1970s hydroplane races and boat races sponsored by the local Jaycees.

Since then, the marina has seen the installation of public restroom facilities but little else in the way of development.

Changes are on tap

The city intends to change that, said Kelly Amos, Oil City’s community development director.

“Things are going to happen,” said Amos, who has been shepherding grant requests through various state agencies and local charitable organizations in an effort to raise money. “It will be in phases, though, with the first one done next year.”

The most recent impetus to upgrade the West End Marina began in 2015 when the city applied to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for a grant to fill a gap on the Justus Trail between Darr and Osborne streets. The money was to be used to clear, level and pave the short trail connecting stretch.

“While we were waiting for the grant, the city had the opportunity to do some of that same work,” said Amos. “So, the scope of the work changed and that meant we had to change our request. … The DCNR asked us what we could do in close proximity to the trail and we said we have a marina there. And they said yes.”

In accepting the change, the state agency awarded a $62,000 grant to the city. It required a local match, making the money available for a trail and marina project at $124,000.

Amos said the local match has nearly been raised with $10,000 budgeted by the city, $25,000 grant from the PNC Charitable Trust, $1,500 donation from a bike trail improvements fund in the Bridge Builders Community Foundations and a $500 donation from a private source.

“There’s one more we need – we asked for a $25,000 grant from a private foundation,” said Amos, adding companies, clubs and individuals can add to the total by contributing to an Oil City Bike Trail Improvements account at Bridge Builders.

So what’s next?

The first phase at rehabilitating the West End Marina is set for next year. The initial work will be blacktopping the short trail segment near the marina that will connect to the Justus Trail. Gates and bollards to prohibit vehicular traffic and signage will be installed.

The next step is the construction of five “primitive campsites” at the marina, said Amos. The city hired Mackin Engineering Co., of Allegheny County, to design the campsite configuration. Design and related work are requirements if state grant money is used.

“There will be three tent pads and two Adirondack shelters (three-sided or lean-to shelters) built,” said Amos. “And, each camping site will have a fire ring and picnic table. There will be a bike rack, directional signage and a permanent kiosk with maps. All this will benefit both bike trail users and water trail users.”

The city will own the campsites and a plan will be developed on how people interested in using them can register. The new additions will complement the restrooms, parking area and boat ramp that are now at the marina.

“I’m not sure the campsites will be ready by next summer, but we’re hoping,” said Amos.

The bigger plan

Meanwhile, the city is contemplating more enhancements at the marina.

A study prepared two years ago outlines a wide array of improvements, including dual boat launching ramps, renovated bathrooms, slope stabilization, parking for overnight campers, upgrades to the existing beach and more. The study pegged the total cost at about $816,000.

“Eventually, the city will follow through with parts or all of the study but it takes a lot of grant work and fundraising to make it happen,” said Amos.