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Hitting the Trails: Boyce Mayview offers wild places close to home, work
Sunday, July 04, 2004

Before running off to the office in the mornings, people run. They row, bicycle, lift weights.

Could a person, before going to work, go on a hike?

Sure. This region holds many near-to-civilization hiking routes. Prime examples are the nature trails at Boyce Mayview Park in Upper St. Clair.

Curt Chandler, Post-Gazette photos
A blue heron lands gracefully on a backwater of Charters Creek in the wetlands area in the southwest section of Boyce Mayview Park.
Click photo for larger image.

Hitting the Trails
This is part of a weekly series spotlighting hiking and biking trails in the region. Publication of the series coincides with the Hike for Health project promoted by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, state Department of Health and other agencies to encourage folks to get fit on foot..

Related content
If you go: Boyce Mayview trails
More photos from this story

Previous stories
Find previous installments of this series at our Hitting the Trails Index
More pictures from all the stories in this series: Hitting the Trails Photo Journal

Next week
Meadow Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park


The trail connecting the farm at the northern end of Boyce Mayview Park with the more developed Loop Trail system at the southern end is marked by birdhouses. The trail is mowed where it crosses open fields so the path won't get lost in high grass.
Click photo for larger image.


Ironically hidden by its south suburban surroundings, this 475-acre tract is a mostly undeveloped mix of woods, fields and wetlands. The township has multimillion-dollar master plans for adding aquatic and recreation centers and paved trails. This week, the manager was authorized to seek a firm to design a better trail system, and hikers aren't being encouraged until improvements are made. But plenty of people love the place wild as it is.

You can get lost here.

I know, because last year I got gloriously lost after embarking down some of the unmarked trails that meander around this question mark-shaped park, the inside curve of which is formed by Chartiers Creek.

The top half is the Mayview part. This is formerly part of the farm that supported adjacent Mayview State Hospital, which opened as a poorhouse named Marshalsea in 1898. Already home to several ball fields, this area is where much of the development is planned, including a Regional Environmental Education Center that is to open this fall.

The bottom half is the Boyce part, once part of the Allegheny County parks system, but not to be confused with the county's Boyce Park in Plum. This is where the named and mapped trails start, so it's where I started my recent pre-work hike.

Parking at the trailhead at the community garden plots off Boyce Road, I was greeted by signs posting park rules, including "No Dogs Allowed in the Wetlands." I was warned poetically that "Poison Ivy Lives Here!" ("Leaves of three, let them be; berries white, run in fright") and of last year's "controlled whitetail deer archery hunt." I wasn't scared.

Also displayed here is a charmingly hand-drawn 1996 map of the trails, which were built by Boy Scouts and students. I also carried a copy of that brochure, unlike the time I got lost. My plan for this morning constitutional was to briskly cover all the mapped trails and more -- a walk of 2 1/2 miles plus.

I started on the Loop Trail, which isn't a loop, but a curvy route to the wetlands. The wood-chip surface quickly gave way to muddy patches, which were stampeded with deer prints.

I knew I had to pay attention as the trail emerged from the woods and crossed the back part of the gardens. At a T with one of the unpaved roads here, I spotted the post marking where the Loop Trail continues through more woods. But just a short way on, the trail hits a clearing. After consulting the map, I knew to not continue on the narrow trail, but rather to head down the clearing to the gravel road.

Turning right, I followed it straight downhill, passing a left turnoff, to where, trail again, it reaches the wetlands.

I couldn't block out the noise pollution from some heavy equipment being operated nearby. Still, as I'd hoped with it being early, I'd seen some wildlife: two rabbits, a groundhog, one deer, a pair of orange polka-dotted butterflies. I'd also seen what I believe was a bluebird, a ruby red cardinal and a brilliant yellow songbird. The park is one of 21 hot spots listed on the Three Rivers Birding Club's site, www.3riversbirdingclub.org.

I was lucky to spy a great blue heron doing its waltz-step wading in the coffee-with-cream water as it fished for breakfast.

Creeping up on it on the trail along the shore, I did some feeding myself, on fat black raspberries that are just now ripening.

I strolled from one "wetlands observation deck" to the other, but those were the spots so overgrown that I couldn't see much. In between, I could see parts of the psychiatric hospital on the other side. Frogs croaked. A fish jumped all the way out of the water. I also came upon two other herons, one of which launched itself on its wide wings with harsh squawks, quite pterodactyl-like as it circled overhead.

Two more unmapped trails continue from the second deck, but I resisted the temptation and backtracked all the way to post at the gardens, where begins the Uplands Trail. It is a loop.

About a third of the way in, where the trail enters a piney woods, I briefly detoured to cover the cul-de-sac that is the Overlook Trail. The climb into open fields was a bit of a workout, but the payoff was fine views of the park and homes all around.

Back down on the Loop Trail again, I paused at the log bench at the Mayview Overlook, shrouded in this season by trees, then negotiated a series of Y's in the trail by always taking the right fork. Soon I was sure that I was on the Loop Trail, as I gently descended along a field's edge to the gardens. The whole hike had taken just an hour and a half.

I followed one of the gravel roads to the car, reveling in the sunshine, the flowers in the meadow and the twitter of birds. It felt like being in the country.

Alas, I was only minutes from Downtown, and I had to get to work. Still, it felt good to go into the office with muddy pant legs and dew-soaked socks.

NEXT WEEK: Meadow Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.

First published on July 4, 2004 at 12:00 am
Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.