The sleek and modern structure, designed by Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects, will replace a now-demolished plywood change house.

Ohiopyle Boater's Change House Exterior Rendering

Ohiopyle Boater's Change House Exterior Rendering

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After conquering the raging Class III and IV rapids of the Lower Yough at Ohiopyle State Park, kayakers and rafters need a comfortable place to unwind and get out of their whitewater gear. Families who have paddled gentler sections of the Youghiogheny River might appreciate having a private space to shower and change clothes.

Those needs will be met at Pennsylvania’s largest state park, known as the gateway to the Laurel Highlands in Fayette County, with a sleek and modern boater’s change house designed by Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects of York and Baltimore.

Wood and stone will give the building a refined rustic look and provide an aesthetic match for the new visitor center at the 20,500-acre park. Construction is to begin in the spring of 2020.

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The structure will replace a now-demolished plywood change house that offered few amenities.

“The old facility was pretty scary,” says Architect Bruce Johnson, who worked with Architectural Designer Patrick Ness on the new building. “It was getting pretty worn down. The changing areas were open to the sky. It wasn’t set up as a four-season kind of facility.”

The new change house, able to accommodate about 30 visitors at once, will provide more comforts, with a central lobby, male and female restrooms and showers, and a separate family restroom with showers on each side of the building.

“A lot of the park rangers we talked to said during peak months, there can be piles of people trying to get in and waiting,” Ness said of the old change house. So, size and function mattered.

“We looked at it as: What’s the best flow through the building? What’s the most convenient way to use it?” he says.

Ohiopyle Boater's Change House Site Plan

Ohiopyle Boater's Change House Site Plan

Amenities and logistics

Part of the Architects’ challenge was figuring a way to have an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, unisex family restroom that could function during the coldest months of the year. With the new design, park officials will be able to keep one such restroom and shower area open in the winter “for those hardy souls who want to run the river when it’s half-frozen-over,” Johnson says.

The heated building’s toilets will use little or no water.

Outside the change house the Architects are adding kayak racks, benches, potable water service, electrical access, a digital screen with information on river conditions, and a bicycle repair station.

A key consideration was the location of the Change House, which, with the parking lot, is on the east side of Route 381 south of the borough of Ohiopyle. The river and visitor center are on the west side of the highway.

“Our first, most obvious question was, ‘Why are you putting it where you’re putting it? It’s on the wrong side of the road in relation to the river,’” Johnson says. “They said there’s no better place.”

That’s because the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is reconstructing the parking lot to add spaces and improve traffic flow. It has built a pedestrian tunnel under the highway so boaters and their craft can get to the river without crossing the road.

“Given that, what’s the best we can do for this building?” Johnson says. “We can make it as adaptable and usable through the four seasons as possible.”

The Change House isn’t just for boaters, he adds.

“The intent was for it to be a welcoming facility for anyone doing anything to appreciate the state park. Maybe they’re cycling, combining cycling with kayaking,” he says.

Ohiopyle Boater's Change House First Floor Plan

Ohiopyle Boater's Change House First Floor Plan

An enticing project

The project struck a chord with Ness, an avid outdoorsman who has hiked the Grand Canyon and the John Muir Trail in California.

“When I heard about this project, I was all about helping out with it,” he says. “Having experience in kayaking, it helps you in a design sense, imagining yourself coming out of the water, off the trail.”

He didn’t have to rely solely on his imagination. Just before beginning work on the project, he and friends hiked into Ohiopyle State Park after camping for two days. They were out of drinking water and soaked from rain. The new Change House existed only on the drawing board at that point.

“It would have been great to jump in the shower after that, but they weren’t there,” he says.

That will change next year, bringing an entirely new experience for visitors to one of the country’s most popular state parks.