Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy takes aim at Panther Hollow restoration

Work to begin this summer on watershed in Schenley Park

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The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy wants to restore Schenley Park's historic Panther Hollow Lake, and this summer will start by working on the urban Oakland watershed that feeds it.

The conservancy's first two pilot projects in the park -- along Beacon and Bartlett streets, and along Schenley Drive through the Bob O'Connor Golf Course -- are designed to manage and minimize stormwater runoff that has caused siltation and water quality problems in the lake for years, said Erin Copeland, a restoration ecologist with the conservancy.

"Panther Hollow Lake is at the bottom of the watershed," Ms. Copeland said. "Our restoration efforts there begin with understanding the hydrodynamics of how water is acting in the watershed and restoring the base flows to Phipps Run and the Panther Hollow stream."

Panther Hollow Lake was an urban recreational "gem" for boating, fishing and winter skating in the 1930s and periodically since. Recent attempts to restore the 2-acre lake by dredging it in 1993 and 2001 didn't produce a long-term fix because they didn't address the storm runoff and the park's stream and groundwater recharge problem, Ms. Copeland said.

This time, she said, the conservancy wants to fix those problems first and use a variety of "green infrastructure" design components -- tree plantings, swales, porous paths and walkways and curb cuts -- to channel stormwater into meadows and wetlands where it can recharge groundwater instead of into the area's antiquated sewers, which discharge stormwater and sewage into the Monongahela River.

PG graphic: Watershed restoration project
(Click image for larger version)

Along Beacon Street in the park, the conservancy plans to install a stone- and soil-covered infiltration trench, essentially a large, very long, French drain, to catch stormwater and spread its discharge through regraded woodland meadows that will replace a steep and open lawn area. There also are plans to regrade the lawn at the Bartlett Street Playground and install wildflower meadow plants, again to aid and increase water absorption.

Together those two projects will soak up 600,000 gallons of stormwater a year and cost approximately $250,000.

The Schenley Drive project through the golf course will capture another 1.12 million gallons of stormwater a year by regrading sections of the course rough bordering Schenley Drive to include humped swales and two "rain gardens" filled with trees, bushes and grasses.

A third pilot project, also along Schenley Drive, is called "Skinny Street," and would narrow the 40-foot-wide road to 26 feet, install infiltration berms to channel water into rain garden wetlands and construct a porous pathway for pedestrians and bicyclers along the road but separated from it by plants.

Narrowing the roadway, would reduce the amount of runoff from the impervious asphalt surface by more than 3.35 million gallons annually.

"Now the roadway is wide and curvy and there's no sidewalk or barrier between pedestrians, cyclists and cars," Ms. Copeland said. "By making it a 'skinny street' with a porous pathway we'll be able to capture much more storm flow and make the area safer."

Cost of the Skinny Street project, which won't be started until the first two are finished, is about $2.5 million.

"There are a number of steps and projects we need to complete before we get to the work on the lake itself," Ms. Copeland said. "It's a multi-year process that depends on securing the needed funding."

Ms. Copeland said the nonprofit conservancy hopes to get in-kind services support from the city's Department of Public Works and Parks Department, for some of the earth-moving needed for the first two pilot projects.

It also has raised money, but is seeking additional funding from local foundations, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority.

Alcosan spokeswoman Nancy Barylak said authority officials have met with the conservancy, find the pilot projects "interesting," but haven't committed any funding.

Controlling stormwater flow in the watershed is complicated, Ms. Copeland said, by its geography, including steep, landslide-prone hillsides and thriving commercial and residential neighborhoods, which combine to create a high runoff, low water infiltration area. The 384-acre watershed also boasts one of the city's most used regional parks, which annually hosts the Race for the Cure, the Vintage Grand Prix, the Greenfield Glide and parts of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

The conservancy's watershed restoration plan was developed in cooperation with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Department of Public Works and city planning, and with input from more than 100 community planning workshop participants.

Companies working with the conservancy on the watershed restoration project include Meliora Environmental Design LLC, a civil and water resources engineering firm; the landscape architecture and design company andropogon; Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, an architecture and urban design firm that provided planning and public outreach; and Cosmos Technologies Inc., which did surveying and local code research.

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Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published April 5, 2013 4:00 AM


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