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Wake-ing up to the city's waterways

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Pittsburgh may be landlocked, but it's defined by water. It's the busiest inland port in the nation, and as even the yahoos doing NFL play-by-play note, its distinctive topography is defined by the confluence of rivers at the city's Point. The region's numerous waterways also have an aesthetic -- if not a psychological -- effect on city life. So it's no surprise that this city has explored just about every method of enjoying what nature gave it.

Kayak Pittsburgh (412-969-9090 or www.kayakpittsburgh.com) rents solo and tandem kayaks, canoes and hydrobikes on the Allegheny River, tucked beneath the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Organized river-paddling events -- like a "fireworks paddle" for evenings when the city indulges its penchant for pyrotechnics -- are organized by Venture Outdoors (www.ventureoutdoors.org).

The Three Rivers Rowing Association (www.threeriversrowing.org, or 412-231-8772) holds regularly scheduled classes and events in rowing, kayaking and even Chinese dragon-boat races from its Washington's Landing and Millvale facilities. If you can't get enough dragon boating there, the Steel City Dragons also give first-timers a chance to experience the thrill of the race from time to time. Find them online at www.steelcitydragons.org.

For those who have boats of their own, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (www.fish.state.pa.us) has a county guide with helpful maps detailing the location of boat launches, private marinas, trout streams and other information. The commission also manages a series of small lakes around the region, as does Pennsylvania's state park system (www.dcnr.state.pa.us). The largest of these is Moraine State Park's Lake Arthur, a 3,225-acre body of water an hour north of Pittsburgh, popular with sailboats, powerboats and even the occasional windsurfer.

Local anglers can connect to one another via a Yahoo! message board at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pittsburghthreeriversfishing. Novices may want to check out TriAnglers, an instructional lunchtime fishing seminar conducted by fishing evangelist Karen Gainey at Point State Park each Wednesday in the summer. (See the Venture Outdoors site, www.ventureoutdoors.org, for more info.)

For thrill-seekers, Pittsburgh is just a short trip from a popular whitewater destination, the Youghiogheny River. (That's pronounced "Yock-oh-gay-nee," outlanders.) Schedule a trip around Ohiopyle State Park by calling 724-329-8591, or visit the park's Web site (www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/ohiopyle) for a list of licensed raft renters and tour guides. And to stay current with the local whitewater scene, the Three Rivers Paddling Club (www.threeriverspaddlingclub.com) is also a good place to start.

For those who prefer their water chlorinated, Allegheny County (www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/) offers large-scale pools at three park facilities, including the Settler's Cabin wave park in the western suburbs. For city residents, Citiparks pools (www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/parks) are open in 18 neighborhoods this summer. The city also offers an indoor pool, the South Side's Oliver Bath House (38 S. 10th St., 412-488-8380), open year-round.

But if you're not into swimming, or staying sober, Pittsburgh boasts Sandcastle Waterpark, where the "Sandbar" is within stumbling distance of the hot tub (412-462-6666 or www.sandcastlewaterpark.com). If you're traveling with young ones, the park has more than a dozen water slides and other attractions to keep them busy.

Another aquatic adventure that will keep the kids happy: Just Ducky Tours (412-402-3825 or www.justduckytours.com) has been driving military-surplus amphibious vehicles around the city and into the rivers for more than a decade, providing historic tours of city landmarks. Fair warning: You may be urged to quack at gawking pedestrians.

The city has come a long way from its industrial-era practice of treating rivers like uncovered sewer pipes. Where once steel mills barred access to the water, area waterways are now graced with a growing network of riverfront trails (find maps at www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/trails/links.html). And though our return from Mordor isn't complete yet, there are still a number of organizations carrying the eco-friendly torch locally. The Friends of the Riverfront gives a number of deserved shout-outs on its links page at www.friendsoftheriverfront.org.

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