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City Neighborhoods
Project would improve Mt. Washington greenways

Monday, October 28, 2002

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights, there's a lot of green in them thar hills.

But neighborhood activists say the existing parks, trails, hillsides, overlooks and greenways are too often viewed as isolated parts rather than as integral to a unified whole.

They believe a new effort to create something called the Emerald Link, a pedestrian/bicycling trail and recreational attraction that will appeal to both residents and visitors, will change that.

Neighborhood leaders want to raise more than $1 million to improve the parks, hillsides and greenways, and make repairs to the rundown "observation pods" along Grandview Avenue. They'd like to turn the entire crescent-shaped area of green into a new regional park.

"It's our front yard, but it's a national attraction," said Susan Brandt, director of the Mount Washington Community Development Corp., a nonprofit neighborhood betterment group.

The Emerald Link idea would build on the four significant city parks that already exist: Grandview Park, on the eastern border with Allentown, and Grandview Overlook Park, known throughout the region for its majestic views of the rivers and the city below, along with two other lesser-known recreational areas on the back side of the hill, Olympia Park and Mount Washington Park and its Dilworth Field.

There is also an area called "The Saddle," a steep slope covered in trees where the old Castle Shannon incline once climbed the hillside, east of the existing Monongahela Incline.

Then there are what the city calls the Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights greenways, steep hillsides covered in trees. And not far away in Beechview is another hilly, forested area, the Seldom Seen Greenway, which could also be linked into the system of green.

Directing much of the Emerald Link effort is Therese Moss, a Boggs Avenue resident and activist with the community development corporation.

She said the Emerald Link would be a "natural woodland, with a series of trails, walkways and a spectacular renewed Grandview Walk." She added it "will create a world-class urban trail that will attract tourists and visitors and provide healthy recreational activities."

Joining the existing parks and greenways, neighborhood officials say, would create a park-like area with more than 200 acres, which could qualify it for funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District.

The asset district already provides funding for four large regional parks in the city: Schenley, Frick, Highland and Riverview parks. But it has turned down several efforts by Mount Washington to seek funding for Grandview Overlook Park, which attracts visitors from all over the region but so far isn't classified as a regional park.

Brandt said she's working with city and state officials, such as Mayor Tom Murphy, Rep. Michael Diven, D-Brookline, and city Councilman Alan Hertzberg, to get additional funding for improvements. It could end up costing more than $1 million to do all the necessary work, she said.

Diven has gotten $10,000 in state funds to better connect the Seldom Seen Greenway above Route 51 to the back end of the proposed Emerald Link, she said. State Sen. Jack Wagner, D-Beechview, also is interested in helping to obtain funds for work related to the Emerald Link.

Neighborhood leaders also want to use the Emerald Link as a way to better connect their area to surrounding neighborhoods, such as South Side, Allentown, Beechview and the West End.

"We want to unify the pieces of the 'link,' " said Moss. "We are looking for funds for the work and passionate people to get involved."

Even though Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights are about 300 feet above Station Square, Brandt said that by using the existing Mon and Duquesne inclines, a recreational walking "loop" can be formed, connecting Grandview Avenue to the new riverfront trail between Station Square and the Monongahela River.

Forest City Enterprises, which owns Station Square, is interested in making a better connection between its property and Grandview Avenue.

Also, Lisa Schroeder, director of the Riverlife Task Force, attended a recent meeting of the community group to support better connections between the Mon riverfront trail and Mount Washington. Schroeder's 3-year-old group is trying to focus attention on miles of riverfront trails in the city and region and thinks this goal can be furthered by linking them to hilltop trails.

Another part of the Emerald Link plan is to raise funds to turn Grandview Avenue into an "urban trail" and make the street -- more than a mile from Wyoming Street on the east to Republic Street on the west -- a better attraction for visitors.

The first element of the plan, which is already under way, is to make the intersection of Grandview and Shiloh Street "a dramatic new entrance" to Mount Washington, said Moss. It will have a map of the business district, plus benches, a walkway of blue stones and several large trees.

The idea, she said, is "to entice foot traffic from the Mon Incline to the Shiloh Street business district."

Also, neighborhood leaders said the four concrete overlooks that extend out from Grandview Avenue, which are sometimes called observation pods, need to be repaired. According to a report by Moss, they now have "deteriorated pavements, crumbling cement on the overlook supports, splintered benches and inadequate lighting."

It's an $800,000 project, Brandt said, adding that she hopes to secure $250,000 from the city to get the work started.

Also, too much litter has been thrown off the overlooks onto the hillside below. Work must be done to properly prune the hillside trees and get rid of "invasive, nonnative" species of trees and bushes that are growing in the Overlook Park, Moss said.

The community development group also wants to create something called "Photography Park" at the western end of Grandview Overlook Park. The Mount Washington group has secured $250,000 in capital funding from the city to begin the landscaping for it, Brandt said.

Unlike the steep hillside below much of Grandview Avenue, this area "contains a large section of gently sloping land," Moss said.

A local architectural firm, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, is drawing up plans for shrubbery, fencing, "low maintenance" plants and a terraced walkway where people can stand or sit to look at or take pictures of the three rivers below.


Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.

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