Historic trek to help Boys and Girls Club

Three members of the Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club will mount bicycles and kayaks in May to travel the 925-mile route Gen. Rufus Putnam and the Ohio Company of Associates traveled from Ipswich, Mass., on their way to found the city of Marietta in 1788.

The three-week trek was planned as a fundraising event to benefit the Washington County Boys and Girls Club and the Harmar Community Center, according to rowing and cycling club president Dan Jones.

He said details of the major fundraising effort are still being worked out, and will be released in the near future.

Jones, 69, will be joined by Roger Murphy, 68, of Duncan Falls, and Gary Murphy, 64, (no relation to Roger) whose family donated the former Magnum Magnetics facility on Lancaster Street to be renovated into a community center and house the Washington County Boys and Girls Club.

“When I started to put this together it was simply to be a fundraiser for the center and the Boys and Girls Club,” Jones said. “But then I learned there would also be a celebration of Marietta’s 225th birthday at that time.”

He contacted celebration organizers and offered to coordinate his group’s arrival from Massachusetts with a Revolutionary War encampment that will be taking place in East Muskingum Park as part of the 225th birthday event.

“We’ll arrive June 8 at the landing on the Muskingum River just below the Start Westward Monument in the park,” he said, adding that other rowing and boating enthusiasts will be invited to meet the three-man expedition near the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers and escort them to the landing site.

Gary Murphy, who completed construction of his first 17-foot wooden kayak earlier this year with expert advice from Jones, said he’s looking forward to the trip.

“I thought it was a good idea when Dan told me about the trip-but then he said I was going along, too,” Murphy said. “At first I thought I’d just buy a plastic kayak, but Dan said I needed a wooden one because it would be lighter and faster in the water.”

He said this will be the first time he’s ever attempted such a journey, which will entail a bicycle ride from Ipswich to West Newton, Pa., where the trio will launch their kayaks into the Youghiogheny River, row to the Monongahela River, and follow that waterway to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh.

From there the expedition will paddle down the mighty Ohio and back to Marietta.

“My kayak is seaworthy, but I’m not-yet,” Murphy joked, adding that all three men are working out to get in shape by the May 15 starting date.

But he emphasized the main purpose of the expedition is to raise money for the community center and Boys and Girls Club.

“This is really a one-time opportunity to obtain some badly needed funding through corporate, civic and private contributions,” Murphy said. “The money will go to the Boys and Girls Club operating fund, and the building fund for the community center.”

The center opened June 8, 2012, after some major building renovations, but Murphy said funds are needed to help complete the project by building a gymnasium and kitchen facilities.

“And one thing we want to do is expand and grow the Boys and Girls Club by being able to accommodate more kids there,” he said.

Jones noted the trip is not the first to trace the Ohio Company’s route from Massachusetts.

“In 1937 there was an expedition, fully funded by the federal government, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Northwest Territory,” he said. “They built and traveled in horse-drawn wagons, and even cut down trees and built flatboats to travel downriver.”

The effort became known as the 1937-1938 Caravan.

Jones said members of the expedition also performed a pageant about the establishment of the Northwest Territory in every town along the route.

“Thousands of people would line the streets and riverbanks when they came through,” he said. “After they reached Marietta they continued into the Northwest Territory states where they performed the pageant in hundreds more communities.”

Jones said the group eventually returned to Marietta and participated in the dedication of the Start Westward monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938.

The statue was sculpted for Marietta’s sesquicentennial celebration by Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of the Mount Rushmore presidential monuments.

The 2013 expedition will be conducted by a much smaller, but no less enthusiastic group, Jones said.

“One of the biggest problems I faced in arranging this trip was lodging,” he said. “Believe it or not, the Ohio Company expedition spent the nights in taverns that were located in every town along the way. But those taverns are long gone, and the cost of staying in motels was out of the question.”

Jones said that problem was solved by Marietta residents Bill and Sally Wesel who volunteered to follow the group with their 35-foot recreational vehicle where the three men can stay overnight.

Rowing and cycling club member Peter Prigge will also go along in a SAG (support and gear vehicle) that will contain supplies like extra bike tires and tubes and other necessary equipment.

Jones said he hopes the group will make 60 miles a day during the bike-riding portion of the trip, and 30 river miles a day in their kayaks.

“I planned the trip to be a fun experience for everyone,” he said. “It’s three weeks, but I think it will also be enjoyable.”