Student Conservation Corp work to clean up Mount Washington trails
For each of the last four years, the regional branch of a non-profit organization called the Student Conservation Association has been taking steps to preserve the environment in local parks and naturally scenic settings.
Every summer since the year 2000, several groups of high school students ages 14-18 take part in an effort to maintain walking trails that exist within regional parks. Among the various parks that have been included in this program are three in the Mount Washington area.
According to Sara Ahrens, regional program manager with the SCA, these include Grandview, Mt. Washington and Olympia parks.
Jackie Reilly was the crew leader for the students who worked in Grandview Park this summer. “Most of our work involved clearing the trails in the park,” Reilly said. “We spent most of the time opening up the overgrown areas and we also cleaned up the garbage and glass that was lying around.”
According to Ahrens, the situation at Mt. Washington Park was somewhat different from that of either Grandview or Olympia parks. Two crews were assigned the task of maintaining trails at Mt. Washington Park, more commonly known to some neighbors as “Dilworth Park.” Cleanups in each of the other parks have been part of the program since it started.
“This was the first summer we had a crew working in this (Mt. Washington) park and the trails looked like they had been neglected for years,” Ahrens said.
One of the tasks the two crews dealt with was removing litter and large pieces of trash, including old tires, from the areas that line the trails. They also focused on taking steps to ensure the containment of erosion.
The crew that would be responsible for the trails surrounding Olympia Park had to do some even more extensive work to clean up what nature had washed away. “Because of water erosion, the crew had to build the trails back up and line them with logs,” Ahrens said. This is also expected to help ensure the safety of residents who use the trails.
Each crew assigned to a specific park began their projects June 23 and finished the summer maintenance effort Aug. 3. During this time, the students and crew leaders worked from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.
According to Reilly, some of the most difficult aspects of working on and preserving the trails go hand in hand with some of the most rewarding.
“When we were out their on hot summer days, it was sometimes hard to get everyone motivated. But, when the kids got into it, it was nice to be able to see and hear the positive reactions,” Reilly said.
In addition to the parks in Mount Washington, the SCA had at least one crew working this summer in each of Riverview, Frick, Schenley and Highland parks, considered to be the four major regional parks. “We also had a roving crew based in West Penn Park,” Ahrens said.
All told, this year's workforce consisted of 10 crews of 6 students each, a total of 60 student workers. Each crew was guided by a crew leader at least 21 years old. All student workers receive a stipend for the time and labor they put in.
According to both Ahrens and Reilly, there are still some difficulties that arise because of a limited time frame for working on park trails. “When we don't have people on staff throughout the year to maintain the trails, the weeds take over,” Aherns said.
Overall, the neighborhoods impacted by the efforts of the SCA seemed to show an appreciative attitude. In both the opinions of Ahrens and Reilly, this is one of the aspects of the work that make it all worthwhile.
“It is really nice to know when a community seems to be helpful and supportive of what we are trying to do,” Aherns said. “After all is said and done, the students got to see the impact of what they were doing all summer as well.”
For anyone who is interested in finding out more about the SCA or volunteering their time to the organization, the national SCA website can be found at www.sca-inc.org. Contact the regional office by phone at (412) 325-1851.