January 26, 2010 |

Long-term strategy developed for trails surrounding Mt. Washington

Some trails located on byways and in neighborhood parks "are not the greatest by any stretch of the imagination," an expert told the audience at the Jan. 21 Mount Washington Community Development Corporation membership forum meeting.

A.J. Schwartz, of the firm Environmental Planning and Design, who was the guest speaker that night, said other trails in those locations are remarkable and make you feel like you are in the wilderness – until you hear the sounds of traffic on Route 51.

MWCDC seeks improvement. The organization wants to expand and enhance the trail network for its 235-acre Grand View Scenic Byway Park, thus affecting the neighborhoods of Mount Washington, Duquesne Heights and Allentown.

Much planning and evaluation has gone on regarding the MWCDC efforts so far.

Work included having a project team walk existing trails and discover new trails. Afterwards routes were mapped and recorded. The team discussed and then selected which trails were most desirable and which should be eliminated due to maintenance issues.

Mr. Schwartz told the audience about a trail in Mount Washington Park that expanded from three feet to twelve feet in width due to leakage and related problems.

The public gave input through focus groups and forums. Mr. Schwartz said that a consultant from Colorado "known as a trail builder" inspected the Trail Plan that the MWCDC devised, saw the trails and gave his advice.

The team also developed a strategy that included a phasing plan, a project specific timetable and a list of financial investments needed for trail improvements.

At some point this year Il-

yssa Manspeizer, MWCDC park resource manager will be asking for "a lot of volunteers to go out and gather data on the park."

The MWCDC in 2008 partnered with the Allegheny Land Trust to purchase 11 acres and is currently looking to buy another 17 acres adjacent to the park.

Another initiative involves work with PennDot to install directional signs along the park's scenic byway.

Still another project involves restoring native forest near Bigbee Field and on the slopes of Grandview Avenue.

Mr. Schwartz talked about the opportunities, goals and challenges regarding the new Trail Plan.

Opportunities include the attraction of visitors to the neighborhood business districts, physical and psychological benefits of exercise that can easily be promoted, and the enhancement of a neighborhood that is a major tourist destination.

Challenges include steep hillsides, seeps and erosion, a long history of dumping and invasive plants.

Goals include creating a trail network that will provide a multitude of experiences for users of all ages and skills, establishing connections between it and other regional and city trails and destinations and, thirdly, meeting the ecological goals of the park.

The estimated cost is $3.08 million during a 17-20 year period."

Where is the money coming from?" asked Frank Valenta, MWCDC board member. The answer was: corporations, foundations and government agencies. Volunteers may be used for some help instead of contractors.

The trail network will be developed slowly and incrementally at first and will evolve over time due to user needs and demands.

The first phase will include the development of a trail that goes from Grandview Avenue at the northern end of Sweetbriar Avenue, around the west end of Grandview Overlook Park and Duquesne Heights Greenway to the Skookum Field area.

In other business, MWCDC executive director Chris Beichner announced that Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights crime statistics are now available on the web site. The organization may soon hire interns to help with seven block watches.

The staff is analyzing data to determine trends. Mr. Beichner said a high rate of crimes occurred near the former South Hills High School, at South Hills Junction, on Saw Mill Run and on Bailey Avenue.

During the period allotted to open discussion Mr. Beichner and board president J.T. Smith were asked about the recent closing of the Shiloh Inn. Mr. Beichner said there is a potential buyer and he is optimistic about a "quick turnaround."

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