The Yough Stop
By Elizabeth Adamczak, 2000
Nestled in the heart of Laurel Highlands, on a southern Pennsylvania mountainside is a peaceful, 2.5 acre piece of wooded heaven. It is well hidden and only the pure-of-heart can find it. Just 2 miles west by southwest of the sleepy borough of Confluence, a gravel lane winds its way up the slope and into the quiet trees. The little plot is perched high above the bustling town of Ohiopyle, home of the mighty Youghiogheny (pronounced “yock-a-gain’-ee”) River.
Clinging to the incline is a well-loved, pole-barn style building. The lower level is open to the outdoors affording a 360-degree view of the surrounding woods. Two picnic tables run end-to-end along the length of the first floor. They sit in dreamy contemplation of the meals, games, educational lectures and general conversations that have taken place here. A counter top runs along the back, home to an ancient microwave and coffee maker. A battered oven/stove convenes, waiting for a meal to be prepared. A dented clothes dryer lists proudly, trying to blend in with the kitchen appliances. An open stairway leads to the closed-in loft above. Mattresses are piled high along one wall, waiting for sleepy outdoors folk to pull them down and dream upon them. Several shelves offer more kitchen and cooking amenities. A gravel parking area sits empty on the slope below the barn. At the lower end perch two shiny, new port-a-johns. To one side, the ashes in the fire circle are a reminder of the tall tales and good times that have been shared there. Behind the barn and up the hill are several semi-leveled and cleared tent sites for campers seeking more privacy. This is the Yough Stop.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, rafting, kayaking and canoeing trips on the mighty Youghiogheny River were a popular pastime for Columbus American Youth Hostelers. A large number of these boating trips were run on the Middle Yough (pronounced “yock”), which was (and still is) ideal for open canoes and beginning closed-boaters. The Lower Yough provided more challenging waters for advanced paddlers. As the trips grew in size and frequency, it became increasingly difficult to find adequate camping facilities. Local campgrounds were used, but when the favorite was closed for refurbishing, something had to be done! Columbus AYHers decided to take action!
In the summer of 1973, while their spouses and friends went paddling without them, Jan Ichida and Ralph Rosenfield went in search of the perfect property. Jan remembers:
“In July of 1973, I was 7 months pregnant and had a 4 ½ year old daughter. Since I couldn’t kayak, I joined Ralph Rosenfield (who was dog sitting while his wife paddled with my husband, Allan). Ralph and I toured several sites with realtors all day Saturday. Most interesting - man with dog, very pregnant woman - - not his wife - - driving big van very fast in hilly countryside. Realtors were puzzled, but showed us many places for sale. Mr. Miller’s land was the best locale (off road and close to Middle Yough) and the right price.”
It did, indeed, seem an ideal spot. It was near Confluence and the put-in for the Middle Yough. It was fairly close to the put-in for the Lower section as well. It was also close enough to the Cheat River in nearby West Virginia.
The site was recommended to the Columbus AYH council and in the fall of 1973 the land was purchased for $2,000. Funds were appropriated from the Columbus AYH bank account, using money raised through the group’s annual bike tour, Tour of the Scioto River Valley (TOSRV).
AYHers happily camped on this site for well over a year. As it was not very flat for tent camping, folks often drove vans with beds in the back. A gravel parking lot kept the vans from sinking into the earth. Anyone who’s familiar with this area of the country can tell you that the mountains in summer are not always warm or dry - especially in the mornings! One can envision large groups of soggy, chilled campers huddled about a steaming campfire, eating breakfast in the rain! The need for some sort of shelter quickly became apparent.
The November 1974 issue of “The Buckeye Hosteler” (AYH’s monthly newsletter) presented a sketch of the prospective new shelter, along with a plea for donations. The sketch was dubbed “The Yough Stop”.
In March of 1975 a bid submitted by the Umbaugh Pole Building Company, Inc. in Delaware, Ohio showed a 1,200 square foot, 20 X 30-foot pole barn with Gambrel roof and loft for $5,657. The bid was accepted. The Umbaugh branch in Butler, Pennsylvania agreed to do the labor. Construction began in June of 1975. Again, funds came from the AYH bank account, TOSRV and donations given by AYH members.
Julia Schmitt recounted that gravel was put down first (with a “pit for dishwater”); then the building itself was built. Volunteers added the finishing touches. Tony Skrabak remembers that Charlie Huhn insulated and paneled the loft. Tony, himself, helped with that as well as with the electrical work. Terry Baughman built the picnic tables. The Yough Stop was completed on June 24, 1975.
Tony had a few memories to share: “When we were adding insulation and paneling to the upstairs, I was impressed by how carefully Charlie Huhn would cut and fit each piece. I was younger and more impatient to get it done quicker. Now, when it is all still in place, I understand why he did it that way. When we were installing the electricity, we had a couple of guys who worked with electric lines in their jobs. I was helping hold parts on the tree while they were making the live connections. One of them told me, “Don’t move, your right hand is just a couple of inches from a live wire!” They got it out of the way so I could move away.”
AYH Yough trips continued to be numerous and large. The new shelter afforded a respite from the weather as well as a communal gathering place. It made cooking for groups of 20 to 30 people much more practical. Tony Skrabak relates:
“The building was built to have a shelter to sleep in and to provide a place to cook on two-burner Coleman gas stoves for the whole trip. Every leader normally acquired a stove, pots and tubs for washing dishes. I still have mine. We used to set up a volleyball net and play something that approximated volleyball on the Saturday night of trips. On Saturdays, we would leave the rafts inflated for use again on Sunday, so some people would sleep on them Saturday nights! During the winters of the late 70's, when we had snow, many boaters bought cross country skis and we started going to the Yough Stop to ski, enclosing the bottom in plastic to provide some warmth.”
Today, the Yough Stop is still most commonly used by Columbus Outdoor Pursuits’ (formerly AYH) boating program. Kayakers, canoeists and rafters use it as a “home base” from which several rivers are accessible. Paddling schools are often held here as all levels of difficulty can be experienced. The shelter is an excellent venue for lectures and even safety videos.
Hikers, bikers and backpackers are also common at the Yough Stop. A myriad of trails, overlooks and just general outdoor, wild beauty are available to anyone interested. Scout troops of all persuasions have also been known to use it, and some of these troops have volunteered their time and energy to the Yough Stop’s upkeep.
The Yough Stop Chair, Paul McPherson, oversees funding for the upkeep of the facility. He collects the nominal fee of $2.00 per night that folks using the Yough Stop are asked to pay. These usage fees cover taxes and electric. When maintenance costs exceed income, the boating activity funds help to cover them. Special fundraisers also help.
In 1999, John Lane (COP’s Boating Chair) and Eric Gehres (Yough Stop Chair at that time) campaigned for donations to replace the two aging port-a-johns (labeled “Turkeys” and “Foul Others”). More than enough donations were received for the purchase of one new unit. A second was generously donated. Eric Gehres and two other volunteers hauled them to the site and installed them. Michael Wadkowski remembers that originally the Yough Stop had a “real” outhouse situated behind where the port-a-johns are now! The problem was, they couldn’t dig deep enough (before hitting solid rock) to make a pit deep enough for “things” to break down. The outhouse filled up!
The future of the Yough Stop looks steady. It is perhaps not as frequently used as when it was first acquired and built, and it is true that rafting trips of 20 to 30 paddlers are a thing of the past. Now many paddlers own their own equipment, both for paddling and camping. It is not uncommon for them to opt for a private or state-owned campground - one with running, hot water! But the Yough Stop still serves its purpose. It is a beautiful and peaceful spot in which to rest and refuel after a busy day – a place to make ready for the next day’s activities!
A hush falls over the mountainside as the birds finish their evening refrain. The sun sinks slowly behind the purple ridge. Another weekday has ended. The weekend is rapidly approaching, bringing with it opportunities to splash in the river’s frothy waves, wander the cool woodland trails and gather around a cheery campfire with friends and loved ones. The beloved barn with its hallowed halls and proud history clings to the side of the mountain. It abides in dreamy anticipation of the weekend and the making of more fond memories. This is the Yough Stop, and it’s waiting for you.
Note: As I thought about this project I realized how very little I knew about the Yough Stop. It became apparent that I was going to have to do some serious research in order to do the Yough Stop, and the people who worked so hard on it, any justice. I would like to thank Jan Ichida, Julia Schmitt, John Lane, Tony Skrabak, Michael Wadkowski and Butch Weaver for all their help and inspiration. I hope that I have made a fair representation of what actually transpired in the purchase and building of the Yough Stop, as well as it’s more recent history. If I have left anyone or anything out, I am grievously sorry. Please let me know so that I can make amends!
Circa 2004, a volunteer crew tore out the musty insulation in the upstairs, and removed all the musty old maps and books. This greatly improved the livability of the place for anyone with mold allergies, but evidently also removed the nest of the flying squirrel which used to be seen around dinnertime.
In the spring of 2006, the roof was replaced by a professional roofing company.
In the fall of 2006, a crew of volunteers used plywood and Plexiglas to make a more permanent wall on the back and entry sides of the building. The thin plastic on the other side and front was replaced with heavier, clear upholstery quality polyester sheeting and a more durable roll-up system. Directions are posted on the wall for those who can’t figure it out just by looking.