Riverfront trail expansion approved

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The goal of a continuous trail between Erie and Washington D.C. moved one mile closer to reality with Pittsburgh City Counci's approval for plans to expand the Three Rivers Heritage Trail along a mile of riverfront between  Aspinwall Riverfront Park and Blawnox Community Park

The project is a joint partnership between Aspinwall Riverfront Park, Friends of the Riverfront and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority — all of who worked together to make the approval happen, said Susan Crookston who is overseeing the development of the Aspinwall park.

“This is a huge opportunity, to have this trail to be approved and become a reality," she said after the March 18 council vote. "We couldn’t have done it without everyone working together. We have formed a really good partnership to make this happen, and happen so quickly.”

Ms. Crookston said when they had surveyed the community about recreation, responses showed that the number one thing residents wanted was trails.

“That is one reason why we are so happy to have this trail approved,” she said.

The trail segment will be part of the system through Allegheny County and eventually Western Pennsylvania.

The new section will run along the Allegheny River from Aspinwall through the PSWA property, UPMC’s Lighthouse Pointe retirement community and O’Hara’s Chapel Harbor development.

Ms. Crookston said that the Friends of the Riverfront had long hoped to extend the Three Rivers Heritage Trail past Millvale, but there were concerns about security with the proposed passage through the PSWA property. Aspinwall Riverfront Park board member Tim Inglis of Franklin Park was instrumental in moving the project forward, she said.

“Tim talked with Jim Good, PWSA interim executive director, and started the conversations,” she said.

Mr. Inglis, a longtime biker said that the alternative was to continue the trail along busy Freeport Road, a less than desirable location for bikers, hikers and walkers.

“It is the dream for the trail to extend to Erie and there are a lot of gaps in between. This extension brings the trail a little bit closer to continuing past Millvale, through Fox Chapel and even further north,” he said.

Mr. Inglis who serves on the board of two of the major funders of the Aspinwall Park, Colcom Foundation and the Laurel Foundation, said they are both dedicated to conservation of natural resources and the trail can help achieve this mission.

“This can eventually be a commuting trail. Folks can ride their bikes into town. Every car that we get off Route 28 helps ease traffic and reduce pollution,” he said.

Brendan Schubert, manager of external affairs for PWSA, said they were happy to work with the organizations to make the trail happen.

Mr. Schubert said they look at the joint venture of the completion of the trail as just “the beginning of their partnership.”

“We can build off of this and do educational projects and other things. We al live, work and play in these communities – they are our communities too,” he said.  “We want to be a facilitator on this trail, not a barrier.”

While a mile may not seem like much, it takes every mile to make the trail complete, according to Tom Baxter, executive director of Friends of the Riverfront.

“To build a trail is a tremendous undertaking. This is not just another mile, but one that represents three municipalities and several organzations working together to make it happen,” he said.

Mr. Baxter who has been working on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail for over 20 years said the project was “accelerated” thanks to Aspinwall Riverfront Park’s leadership and PWSA’s commitment to the community.

“We also have to thank UPMC for giving us permission to cross Lighthouse Pointe,” he said.

The Friends of the Riverfront holds a license agreement with the city and will oversee the construction of the trail while Aspinwall Riverfront Park is donating $250,000.

Ms. Crookston said they received the $250,000 as an anonymous donation specifically designated for the development of a trail. They also received funding from the Laurel Foundation and Friends of Aspinwall Riverfront Park for the design phase of the trail.

It is the Friends of the Riverfront’s hope to have trails on both sides of all of the rivers in Allegheny County.

“This mile brings us a bit closer,” Mr. Baxter said.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer, suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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