Island on Allegheny bought, will be preserved

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Sycamore Island in the Allegheny River near Blawnox, undeveloped, uninhabited and forested with silver maple, will grow on you.

In fact the island, on a bend of the river, has grown from the 6.7 acres described in a 1959 bill of sale to its present size of more than 14 acres, courtesy of silt and sediment deposits.

Yesterday, Sycamore Island, the last undeveloped, privately owned island in Allegheny County, was purchased by the Allegheny Land Trust, which will preserve it, assuring that the natural expansion and use will continue.

The island is classified as a hardwood floodplain forest -- mostly silver maple -- among the rarest plant communities in the world, said Roy Kraynyk, executive director of the land trust. And it's part of the Allegheny River Biological Diversity Area, with a "high significance" ranking in Allegheny County's Natural Heritage Inventory.

"The conservation of Sycamore Island ... ensures that this undeveloped island and its ecological, educational and recreational benefits will be forever protected," Mr. Kraynyk said. "It's important as a stop in the flyway down the Allegheny River, and we intend to maintain it in its natural condition while permitting some recreational uses that are compatible."

The 15-year-old Sewickley-based land trust bought the island from Mirric Realty Inc., for $250,000. The money for the purchase came from a grant by the Colcom Foundation in Pittsburgh, which makes grants in the areas of population and environmental sustainability, natural resource preservation and land and water conservation.

"This is an extremely exciting project," said Carol Zagrocki, Colcom program director. "Sycamore Island is truly a rare conservation opportunity in the county."

The Pennsylvania Natural Diversity index, a statewide listing of ecological features, considers all floodplain forest to be imperiled in the state.

Recreational boaters frequently visit Sycamore Island, which has been proposed as a docking location for the Allegheny River Trail project of the Friends of the Riverfront and Steel City Rowers. Conservation of the island will create a rare opportunity for the public to visit a wild, natural island within an urban county, according to the land trust's news release on the purchase.

Mr. Kraynyk said the land trust hopes to use the island as a demonstration site or to teach about invasive species removal and river water quality improvements.

He said the trust also will remove debris deposited by previous flooding, as well as the remnants of a restaurant that operated on the island prior to being destroyed by flooding caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

Since it began operating in 1993, the Allegheny Land Trust has purchased and protected more than 1,350 acres in 18 municipalities.

Don Hopey can be reached at or 412-263-1983.


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