West Branch Boat Club
Stewards of the Susquehanna
It was 1972 and Hurricane Agnes unleashed its fury upon Pennsylvania. The West Branch of the Susquehanna River rose above its banks at the West Branch Motor Boat Association (WBMBA) decimating their DuBoistown property. “It ruined us. We lost our clubhouse. The only thing that was left were the docks, and they were pushed up onto the riverbank,” said Todd McCoy, a board member of the WBMBA for 51 years.
Despite the devastation, the organization rallied to rebuild immediately. “We had a couple of charter members and they started rebuilding right away. That year we didn’t do any boating. We just rebuilt,” said McCoy.
Now in operation for 71 years, the WBMBA was founded in 1949, when members of the former Canoe Club turned to boating.
“Since they were interested in motorboats, they started searching for land on which to locate the fledgling club,” said WBMBA Commodore Mark Glossner. Appropriately, they landed at 1 Summer St., DuBoistown, where the association is located to this day.
The WBMBA has been a steward of the river and is the only marina on the West Branch. After incorporating, the group’s first aim was to clean up the abandoned log booms with sharp edges. The commonwealth granted permission to the group to dismantle the cribs by lobbing dynamite into the river.
Fast forward to the late 1950s. Williamsport’s wooden dam needed to be repaired. However, since it had been built in the 1890s, state officials were inclined to just destroy it rather than rebuild.
“Without the dam, the river would only be canoeable,” said Glossner. The dam is vital for motorboats to navigate the river because it creates deeper water.
“[The WBMBA] lobbied then Secretary Maurice Goddard with the Pennsylvania Department of Forest and Waters,” said Glossner. That effort took some time but it led to the dam being rebuilt in the early 1980s, preserving a recreational jewel in the area. “This is why Lycoming County has the longest navigable waterway for boats on the Susquehanna River,” said Glossner.
Hiawatha Captain Mike Strunk added, “We have the nicest 13 miles of boating in North Central PA.”
In addition to being caretakers of the river, the WBMBA is dedicated to recreational boating. “We promote boater safety, boating on the river and legislation that affects boating on the river,” said Glossner.
The WBMBA offers its services for lower-than-average seasonal fees, Glossner said.
The organization is more than just a place to dock a boat. Members have shepherded each other and the local community. One particular member is heralded as doing just that for generations of children. “Jay Livziey was my mentor through Boy Scouting,” said Strunk.
Before his passing in 2018, Livziey was a local educator and commodore with the association. Livziey assisted many Boy Scouts while working on merit badges. He also developed a program in conjunction with the Bethune-Douglass Center where children learned about the Susquehanna River while boating on it. “He touched a lot of people’s lives as an educator and was a Scout master from 1980 to 1987,” said Strunk.
Today, Livziey’s service is memorialized on a plaque at the club that stands beside a tree planted in his honor.
“Basically, he trained all the younger members to continue on his legacy. He was a great instructor,” Strunk said.
The WBMBA currently has around 160 members but not all hail from Lycoming County. One member is from New Jersey while others hail from Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. “We work with everybody so closely that it’s like an extended family,” said Strunk.
“Friendship means a lot to me and it is my favorite aspect of the club,” McCoy added.
“My parents did the whole river lot thing and the boat club was thought of as a yacht club but it is actually made up of middle class boat owners who love their river,” said Strunk, who has been a board member for two decades.
In addition to access to the river, the WBMBA’s amenities include the clubhouse, pavilions, outdoor grills and an annual tureen dinner. One of the biggest benefits of membership is the gas dock operated by the association, which is available to all boaters on the river. Strunk said, “There would not be commercially available fuel on the river without the boat club.”
Each spring, association members come together to ready the association for the season. It is hard work installing docks, cat walks and floats. Despite the long hours of preparation, there is some room for fun.
“We used to store the docks above the Arch Street Bridge and we would take them in sections. Every year, someone fell in. Nobody got hurt but there have been a lot of laughs. We like razzing each other about that,” said McCoy.
One of the cherished benefits of the WBMBA is the opportunity to share it with family. McCoy has been able to do that for decades. He said, “My dad was a charter member. We have four generations in the club. The kids and grandkids are now members.”
Days spent on the river include rafting, water skiing and perhaps a glimpse of the American bald eagle that nests on a nearby shore. The memories created are not long forgotten, Glossner said.
“When our kids come back, they want their kids to experience [the river] like they did,” said the commodore. For many, boating is a tradition that will continue to be handed down through generations.
Whether the WBMBA is rebuilding after a devastating flood, lobbying for legislation to improve the river or just boating with family, their resilience is indisputable. For Strunk, the demise of the group would be unfathomable.
“There would be no commercially available fuel on the river without the boat club. There would be one less boat ramp and there wouldn’t be boat storage on the ground for six months a year.”
And, of course, there would be one less caretaker to protect the river.
For more information about the WBMBA, visit their website at http://www.westbranchboatclub.org/