A Bit of Background

Lower Merion Community Boathouse FAQ

Mission Statement

The Lower Merion Scholastic Rowing Association (LMSRA) is a 501 (c)3 organization consisting of residents of Lower Merion and Montgomery County formed to encourage and manage the Public process of building and operating a Lower Merion Community Boathouse along the banks of the Schuylkill River. The purpose of the boathouse is to provide a safe environment for Township youth and a recreational facility for all Lower Merion Township residents in a financially self-contained program.

Overview and Guiding Principles

  • The LMSRA will finance, build and operate a boathouse upon property owned by Lower Merion Township at a location within the Township. 
  • The Lower Merion School District has maintained rowing/crew programs at both of its two high schools. The District must lease space for the storage of equipment and dockage in Conshohocken, outside the Township, where these teams must fight for space among the crowded conditions shared with fifteen other organizations. This Boathouse will create a new facility for the Township’s two high schools teams.
  • The primary proposed site is within township park land known as Flat Rock Park on River Road, which can be accessed by the Hollow Road or Mill Creek Road tunnels under the railroad tracks (below I 76) or by Waverly Road. The Lower Merion Parks Department currently plans to build additional bike/jogging trails through the park to connect this area with other Township park trails, including the Harry Olsen Trail and the Cynwyd Heritage Trail. 
  • This boathouse concept has been several years in the making and has been reviewed by the principals and athletic directors of the school district, who encourage and support the vision of a boathouse located within the Township. 
  • The LMSRA has not designated an exact location for the facility but hopes to encourage a process that will result in the overwhelming support for an ideal location with the support of the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners, Township Staff, and the Lower Merion School District. 
  • The LMSRA will seek third-parties as a means of generating revenue, such as private donations, state and local agencies that have a need to use the water.
  • In addition, to collect money to build the boathouse, the LMSRA will solicit funds to create an endowment for the perpetual maintenance of the Boathouse. These solicitations will include naming rights and appropriate recognition of donors.
  • Road access for buses and boat trailers is crucial to the viability of any site.
  • The boathouse and its parking will integrate with other park activities, the trail systems, and the natural environment the Township wishes to maintain.
  • The boathouse may be in use from 5:00 AM to several hours past dusk. This is before and after school hours. 
  • The LMSRA will seek input from all interested parties during design and planning, including township staff and residents, to assure that all concerns are addressed.
  • All feasible environmental conservation measures will be taken during design and construction to ensure that the boathouse will enhance the natural environment.

Questions and Answers

Why does Lower Merion need a boathouse?

  • Lower Merion Township has seven miles of waterfront without a facility for the storage or launching of the long, quiet boats used in the sport of Crew. Many residents of Lower Merion are unaware the Township has such a beautiful resource, because of the limited access to the river. The proposed boathouse facility will open the river to many more township residents.
  • Lower Merion has two of the oldest public high school Rowing Teams in the country. Because the Township did not build a boathouse, in the past, the School District has paid to lease space outside the Township. Originally, the schools rowed out of Bachelors Barge Club on Boathouse Row. Drexel University took over the Bachelors boathouse, requiring the Lower Merion school teams to find other accommodations. Both teams wound up in Conshohocken, at a much higher lease expense than they paid before and with numerous restrictions on their ability to run comprehensive programs for instruction and training. On the other hand, they were able to practice in the area known as “up river,” which consists of four miles of great boating water extending from Flat Rock Dam to Conshohocken
  • The crowded conditions at Conshohocken creates limitations for these programs. 
  • The limitation on dock space reduces rowing time on the water.
  • The longer commuting time between the schools and the Conshohocken location reduces the amount of time spent practicing.
  • The current lease agreements are subject to renewals, substantial cost increases, and restrictions. 
  • Lower Merion does not have a storage facility to accommodate the very many (non-student) Township residents who row or would like to row on the Schuylkill River. The only public dock along the river is in Flat Rock Park, and that is functional only for the launching of motor boats and jet skis, but not for sculls and other rowing boats. It is not the intention of LMSRA to change the use of this dock in any way, but rather to build an additional floating dock nearby for the purpose of launching the boats used in the sport of crew.
  • The Lower Merion Rowing Teams run learn to row programs for Township Residents already. These programs would become more valuable if given within the Township. 
  • The existence of a boat house would not change the existing character of the mixed use on the river. Already, all types of boats use the upper river and would continue to do so, enhancing the quality of living in Lower Merion. Of course, just as with every other society, common sense and courtesy will enable all to enjoy the resources that belong to all of us.

Environmental Impacts

The number of rowers will be a function of the interest in the sport, the enrollment at the high schools, and the capacity of each parent association and school to accommodate additional rowers. Each high school features 65 to 70 rowers at both the junior and varsity levels. This many student rowers already row between Conshohocken and Flat Rock Park. If the new facility attracts more Township residents to use the river for their enjoyment, then that would increase the number of people, Township Residents, using this State Waterway. 

Will a boathouse increase the level of noise for the residents of River Road?

River Road is adjacent to the I-76 Expressway, a major freight train line, and is often used as a detour when traffic backs up on the expressway. Moreover, power boats and jet skis, currently used on the river, make considerably more noise than a boat powered by oars. Although there is no reason why the use by some should limit the use of others, certainly the decibel level on the river would drop if everyone took up the sport of sculling and crew. 

Some people have objected to sounds made from rowing teams rowing from the upriver boat houses. There is the occasional crew coach who uses a megaphone to shout instructions to rowers during practice. Although the coaches receive instructions to show courtesy to the residents, and most do, there are sometimes new or temporary coaches who do not receive or abide by this message. Obviously, none of these coaches come from the Lower Merion proposed boat house. But if they did, then the facility would be able to exert control and influence over those who use it. 

As part of the boathouse, each of the Lower Merion School District coaches will use (existing) wireless technology, enabling them to speak with their crews at a normal voice level. Both Lower Merion HS and Harriton boats use this technology to enable the coxswains to give quiet instructions. 

How will the boathouse improve water safety?

With so many of our community on the river it is important to provide space to teach about water safety. We envision community education on how to enjoy the river safely and responsibly. 

Would a boathouse on the upper river result in a ban against motorboats and water skiing?

The Schuylkill River along Philadelphia’s famous and historic “Boathouse Row” limits motors to no greater than 12 horsepower. This unique rule was imposed by the State of Pennsylvania many years ago, because the river runs through historic Fairmount Park. It is not the intention of the LMSRA to suggest any such restriction on the upper river, which is governed by the State of Pennsylvania. If it were the intention, the dozen or so teams already rowing out of Conshohocken would have made such a request long ago. 

Rowing teams operate on major industrial bodies of water, such as the Port of Long Beach, California. Responsible boating, if practiced, allows all to use the water safely. The Schuylkill River belongs to all the residents of Pennsylvania, not just to Lower Merion, and so everyone must learn to accommodate each other. 

Facility and Land Issues

Will the boathouse look like an aluminum shack or a building that would be architecturally appealing?

It is the philosophy of the LMSRA that anything worth doing is worth doing well. It is our hope that we build a facility that will represent the Township well architecturally and continue to serve the community for centuries to come.

Who will own the boathouse and the land on which it sits, the school district or the Township? The land will remain Lower Merion Township property in perpetuity. The LMSRA will create a non-profit entity, which would own the improvements. The school district and other entities, such as the Parks and Recreation Department, would lease space from this non-profit entity.

What are the current and planned uses of this land? Land to the southeast of the existing boat ramp and bathroom building is largely unused. The plans for this area include a walking and biking trail, essentially extending the already developed park south towards the dam. There is abundant land available in this area for the boathouse.

What would happen to the boathouse in the case of the 100 year flood? Over time floods have closed River Road temporarily. This boathouse will be built according to code for flood protection. When River Road is flooded, so are the other areas along the river that boathouses are situated on.

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