Through a grant from the Keystone Fund, we were able to construct a new playground on higher ground. This means the playground can stay open year round, and also provides new, safer equipment. During the construction, kids in the park would come up to me and thank me for the new playground, saying they couldn’t wait for the grand opening. I received more positive feedback on the playground improvements than any other project I’ve been involved with, and mostly from our youngest residents!
Our mothers would cook their specialties at home and pack them in their baskets. Dads would bring the horseshoe posts and shoes, the baseball gear, volleyball net, and the badminton net, and set them up for all to play. The kids brought hula hoops, bikes, and bathing suits.
A Five Star Trail highlight for our family occurred when our son Regis did his Eagle Scout Project as a service to the Trail. Working with Malcolm Sias from Westmoreland County Parks, Regis planned and coordinated the building of two mini-pavilions at two different locations along the Five Star Trail with Scout Troop 405 from South Greensburg. The pavilions are large individual picnic tables protected by a shingled roof, and provide a place for trail users to rest beneath shelter from the sun or rain.
Just off Route 51, two miles north of Beaver Borough, is Bradys Run Park, the largest of the Beaver County parks. Situated within Brighton and Patterson Townships, Bradys Run Park’s 2,000-plus acres offer outdoor enthusiasts a plethora of recreational activities and venues. Bradys Run offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities: there are picnic shelters, athletic fields, tennis courts, an off-leash dog area, basketball courts, a skate park, a street hockey rink, a horse arena, a 1-mile walking and jogging loop, 12 miles of trails, and playgrounds.
My trip along the Montour Trail was a rewarding experience. Friendly people, a remarkable camping trail accommodation–it makes a perfect getaway for anyone seeking some solitude outside of Pittsburgh. Once all the trail sections are completed, the Montour Trail will become one spectacular trail system that creates a large “C” skirting around the greater Pittsburgh area.
When on the Trail I feel the stresses of the day go away, reminding me of the practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or “forest immersion,” developed by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries as a sustainable, non-extractive way to derive benefit from the country’s forests. I feel a friendly connection with people I meet, and am amused by the occasional dog accompanying its family for a walk. In addition, I feel appreciation for what the Trail and Greenway mean to people who visit or enjoy them, or otherwise benefit from their presence, and for the remarkable teamwork that brought them into being and continues to expand them.
The trail brings visitors from all over the United States as well as all over the world. Many of these visitors are passing through Confluence, either riding the GAP or as part of a longer trip, including many who are riding coast to coast. The natural beauty as well as all the recreation opportunities of the region leads many of them to return. The GAP is one of the best ambassadors for the Laurel Highlands Region.
No matter the season, the Three Rivers Heritage Trail hosts runners of all types and abilities. It isn’t the start line or the finish line, but the place where all the hard work and tenacity happens. On the trail, runners log their training miles and overcome their biggest obstacles.
South of Pittsburgh, Bear Run Nature Reserve is one of my favorite summer and early fall birding destinations in the Appalachian Mountains. Nestled in the Laurel Highlands, the 4,500-acre preserve has roughly 20 miles of trails that meander alongside several creeks and through hemlock groves, with scenic panoramas overlooking the Youghiogheny River.
The Ghost Town Trail proved to be an invaluable resource for my running partners and me as we trained for the 2016 Chicago Marathon. We utilized various sections of the trail based on our training plan requirements. For speed work, we started in Ebensburg and ran downhill to Nanty Glo. Short recovery runs on Ebensburg’s crushed gravel sections helped keep our legs healthy. For distance runs, we took advantage of the Vitondale station for parking and water stops. The heat, humidity, and dew point were a brutal mix for 20-mile runs; Vitondale’s resources were much appreciated.
The island hosts a unique floodplain hardwood forest which provides habitat for a distinctive flora, including several species the WPMC has found nowhere else, such as Calvatia rugosa, a golden yellow puffball. So far, the survey has identified about 75 species on the island, but we still add new species on every walk due to small variations in season and fruiting conditions. The real species count is likely much higher.
After years of envisioning and planning, the acquisition of the rail line by the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, and aligning broad-based community support, a breakthrough in Keystone funding occurred. This was coupled with many generous donors, businesses, local foundations, and our local government all coming together to ultimately catalyze implementation. My three young daughters, Gianna, Sophia, and Avila refer to it as “that fun road.” That joy they had the first time they used it is shared across all demographics, as this is a trail that has truly become owned by the greatest asset in our community: our residents.
The James W. McIntyre Hiking and Biking Trail is a 2.5-mile trail that winds through a 275-acre wooded tract of land that was donated to Indian Lake Borough by PBS Coals, Inc. The entire project was funded through both federal and state funding, which included grants for the construction costs from the Pennsylvania Transportation Enhancement Program and the Southern Alleghenies Regional Planning and Development Commission. Keystone Fund grants totaling $72,800 helped with construction and engineering costs.
Midway down the trail I take a break to view a train pulling oil tankers east on the mainline. Watching them cross over the Conemaugh Viaduct, I wonder how it must have looked during the tragic flood. The original viaduct was destroyed by the forces of the flood. The rushing water and debris temporarily dammed up here, until the viaduct gave way. Although it gave the water more strength, I wonder if it also allowed people in the floods path a few more minutes to escape. It is amazing how nature can destroy, and can also heal.
The Panhandle Trail has had tremendous impact along its entire length. Not only do hundreds of people use it each day to walk, run, and ride, but communities have developed events and policies because of it. The Keystone Fund played a crucial role in making the trail a reality. I personally know of people who have moved to Collier and South Fayette just to be near the trail. It is a year-round resource, as the many cross country skiers will attest.
I have been working with both undergraduate and graduate Duquesne University students at Wingfield Pines for 10 years. This on-site experience provides benefits for the students that can’t be replicated in a classroom setting: the spontaneity of an evolving ecosystem, of never knowing what might happen while walking from pond to pond. It’s a true example of the problem-solving style in science education.
Not long ago, the neglected 80-acre property at Wingfield Pines offered nothing to the community except the thousands of gallons of abandoned mine drainage (AMD) it poured into Chartiers Creek every day. The land had been strip mined in the 1940s, and was later home to a failed golf and swim club. However, Allegheny Land Trust (ALT) saw potential in the site and took steps to acquire the land.
Pleasing children, teenagers, adults, and seniors throughout the entire year in one location isn’t an easy feat. But White Township Recreation Complex in Indiana County has managed to do just that. The Keystone Fund has supported the township’s efforts to provide an array of facilities in the park.
Rice’s Landing Borough is a community of 450 residents situated along the Monongahela River in northeastern Greene County. The Borough cultivated support for the construction of boat docks from a diverse contingent of citizens, elected officials, nonprofit groups, and local businesses.
This project evolved into truly a community effort. Approximately 20 residents volunteered their time to construct the playground area, and township employees also contributed extensive labor. Bankson Engineers donated their professional services to design the space. Furthermore, the community raised approximately $5,000 in cash donations. With all of these in-kind, volunteer, professional services, and cash donations in place, the township was awarded a Keystone grant of $47,000 in 2002 and an additional $5,000 was amended to the contract in 2003. By 2004, the playground was completed.