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The 41st Annual Historic Canal Days Festival returns to Saltsburg in June

The 41st annual Historic Canal Days Festival in Saltsburg will be held June 2, 3 and 4, featuring live music, food, fireworks and other entertainment.

The event will feature various food trucks, including ice cream, soft pretzels, kettle corn, macaroni and cheese, mini doughnuts, slush puppies, PA BBQ, Philly steak, maple syrup, handmade jerky, Italian ice and fried dough sandwiches by the Saltsburg Volunteer Fire Department.

Entertainment for this year’s event include Popcorn the Clown, Conemaugh and Loyalhanna Dam Park Rangers, a bouncy house, caricatures and train rides.

A free shuttle will be available Saturday and Sunday.

Events on Friday begin with a 5 p.m. performance from the group Somebody to Love (oldies), followed up by a 7 p.m. performance from Amber Marie (country/modern) and an 8 p.m. performance from The Shiners (rock).

On Saturday, the opening ceremonies kick off at 11 a.m. At noon, there will be a parade, followed by various musical performances the rest of the night, including Black Ridge (rock), Voodoo Radio (rock), karaoke and finally The Thieves (country). Fireworks will be happening at 10 p.m.

On Sunday, four groups will play through the afternoon, featuring Instamatic Grin (country/gospel), L.E.D. (rock), Julie Dunmire and Napa Joe D’Aquila (oldies) and Endless Thirst. The beloved Saltsburg Free Library Duck Race will be at 3 p.m.

“Our entertainment for the festival is just amazing,” said David Pizer, one of six members of the Canal Days committee. The event he looks forward to the most each year is the duck race.

“Each of us has a different job to do,” he said, “taking care of all the background stuff that nobody really notices. I do a lot with the duck race.”

Several years ago, Pizer created a new way of holding the duck race that kept volunteer firefighters safer throughout the process.

“We used to place ducks in the river and firemen would be downriver collecting the ducks as they all floated this way and that,” he explained. “They had to get bodily in the water to catch them.”

The new version of the race, featuring two 20-foot-long tubes to streamline the 500 rubber ducks, makes the process “a whole lot safer and fun now,” according to Pizer.

“The race only takes a couple of seconds,” he said, “but it’s such a joy.”

Ducks will be available for $5 the day of the event at the Saltsburg Free Library table.

“Canal Days is a really big thing to do,” he said. “It’s kind of like a homecoming event, people come out of retirement areas, link up with classmates, that kind of thing. The young people love it too. It’s a huge to-do. Our entertainment is just fabulous.”

Pizer said volunteers for the festival are always welcome.

For more information, check out the Historic Canal Days Festival on Facebook.

River Valley adds courses to STEAM Academy

At its meeting April 25, the River Valley School District’s board of directors approved three 2023-24 workforce development programs for its STEAM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) in Saltsburg, in Welding Technology, Pathways to Health Professions, and Biomedical Technology:

• District officials said Welding Technology will provide training in Oxy-Acetylene Cutting and Brazing, Shielded Metal Arc Welding, Air Carbon Arc Cutting, Gas Metal Arc Welding, Flux-Cored Arc Welding, Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, Plasma Arc Cutting, Robotics, and Augmented Reality.

They said the program follows standards established by the American Welding Society and American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The move also came apparently because of problems with the Welding Technology program, and the lack of an Electrical Occupations program for the past several years at the Indiana County Technology Center.

Superintendent Phillip Martell said ICTC “could not accept our 14 River Valley students, due to program capacity.” He hailed Canzano, Constantino, Harper, Stiles and Whitfield, saying they had “a vision to supplant regional workforce shortages,” and encouraged other school districts to partner with River Valley.

• Pathways to Health Professions will introduce skills needed to pursue careers in the healthcare industry, covering topics including medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, clinical procedures, OSHA regulations, infection control, and legal, ethical, and economic aspects of healthcare.

• Biomedical Technology applies biological sciences, biochemistry, and genetics in preparation for new and enhanced environmental, clinical, and industrial products, including commercially exploiting microbes.

Also, River Valley school directors voted to invest more than $2 million into the STEAM Academy, one of the academies at Saltsburg which replaced the former Saltsburg Middle/High School at 84 Trojan Lane, just north of the Saltsburg borough limits in Conemaugh Township.

In a press release issued by the district, Martell hailed directors Tim Canzano, Connie Constantino, Rick Harper, Molly Stiles and Mary Whitfield for being “true to their word over the last two years by supporting the Academies at Saltsburg which include pre-kindergarten, cyber, and the STEAM Academy.”

He went on to say, “We are pleased that these individuals were able to have an impact on the other three board members who also voted yes,” referring to school directors Nathan Baird, Beverly Caranese and Melanie Pantalone.

School director Jessica Clawson was absent Monday night.

In addition to those new programs approved Monday, district officials said the STEAM Academy will have available in the 2023-2024 school year courses in Electrical Occupations and Powerline; Sports Medicine and Rehabilitative Therapy; Cybersecurity; E-sports; and Teacher Preparation.

Martell predicted that 28 percent of those in grades 10-12 in the River Valley district will be able to attend a program of their career interest at the STEAM Academy.

Also, beginning this fall, the superintendent said, the STEAM Academy will be open to students from any school district. Interested students can visit to request a tour or submit an application.

Borough seeks street paving bids

HOMER CITY — A summer street paving program for the borough will soon be advertised for contractors’ bids.

The town council on May 2 directed Borough Manager Rob Nymick to post the project, the resurfacing of just over one mile of South Lincoln and Bryan Streets, that has been estimated at $149,900.

Nymick told council the borough has been promised a state grant of $150,000 to pay for the work. Most of it, anyway — depending on the bidding.

“The market is wacky” lately, Nymick said.

In other business, council was challenged to face the future of the Homer City-Center Township community by developing a long-term strategic plan for reviving commerce and halting population loss.

Businessman Rob Walbeck said the area needs a vision for revitalization — not a task put on the shoulders of the town council or Center Township’s board of supervisors, but a job for a group of community stakeholders with a vested interest in the future.

The Homer-Center area’s heyday of having a thriving population and a robust economy is in the past. The community was economically crippled when most of the nearby coal mines closed in the 1990s. The impending closure of the Homer City Generating Station, powered by imported coal in recent decades, has cast another pall on the township and the borough.

“The first step to revitalizing is creating a vision and what I would like to see is getting an organization — and I know there’s been talk of a rural development corporation — to create a 5-year strategic plan, a 10-year plan,” Walbeck said.

Walbeck said county and state leaders have endorsed the idea of a group responsible for a philosophy for the future.

“They all feel it’s the right first step for us if we want to move forward and survive as a community,” Walbeck said.

His mention of a rural development board, he said later, referred to a panel likely to be created to administer a downtown blight remediation project.

The borough has sought state grant aid to tear down and replace old Main Street buildings, as a component of the wide-ranging Yellow Creek cleanup and rail-trail extension project Nymick unveiled in 2021. While the borough could find grant money to pay for the work, it’s unable to own the properties being redeveloped.

Whether the visioning task is made the job of that development group or another, Walbeck said the community’s future would rely on it.

“Too often council over the past year has been working month to month,” Walbeck said. “We’re not looking forward five or 10 years. Let’s create that group. … I’ll volunteer to step up to help that, so I’ll need help and support from our business association.”

Visioning, he said, includes equal parts of good and bad: “let’s find what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are, what are our opportunities and our threats.”

“Once we do what we are planning for Main Street, where do we go from there? What do we envision bringing in to those businesses or that district we’re looking at?” Walbeck said. “What does the community want? Right now is the best opportunity that we have. We are at a crossroads; we are either going to survive or die and it’s time we look for survival.”

Walbeck said he expects to extend his appeal to Center Township’s board of supervisors and other community-interest groups.

Homer City Council also voted to reschedule the July meeting to Monday, July 3, instead of Independence Day.

Council also authorized an expenditure of up to $775 to cover the costs for Mayor Arlene Wanatosky to attend the annual Pennsylvania State Mayors Association conference July 20 to 23 in Lancaster. Wanatosky estimated the expenses at $250 for the event, $327 for a hotel, meals, various Lyft services and an Amtrak train ticket at $104, which she said would be $82 less than mileage reimbursement for driving her own car.

Council also closed its doors for a 12-minute executive session for discussion of a legal matter. Solicitor Michael Supinka said the board pondered an unspecified zoning issue that is expected to advance to litigation in court.