Allegheny Land Trust to add new life to Dead Man's Hollow conservation area
March 17, 2017 12:00 AM
A view of and old pipe shop along the Ruins Trail, an area in Lincoln and Liberty boroughs and Elizabeth Township that is being preserved by the Allegheny Land Trust.
By Jake Flannick
In a quiet stretch of protected woodlands in southeastern Allegheny County, conservationists are laying the groundwork for more sustainable wildlife habitats and recreational trails.
The expanse, called Dead Man’s Hollow, has remained a focal point for the Allegheny Land Trust for more than two decades. But in recent years, the organization has sought not only to enrich its natural beauty and biological diversity but also to draw attention to its crumbling vestiges of industrial activity that date to the late 19th century.
“So often we see forests being developed or destroyed,” said Keri Rouse, the land trust’s community coordinator for the site. But “nature has really reclaimed that area.”
Encompassing about 450 acres, the tract is the largest privately protected conservation area in the county and the most undisturbed tributary valley in the Youghiogheny River valley. It lies in Elizabeth Township, Liberty and Lincoln.
Wildlife is abundant, with more than two dozen types of birds and all kinds of wildflowers. Winding beneath a dense canopy of hardwood trees are some six miles of multipurpose trails, and stretching along its eastern edge is the Great Allegheny Passage.
Also at the eastern edge, industrial ruins have given way to nature — and graffiti. Along Ruins Trail stand the foundations of old kilns that stretched 100 feet high and the shells of buildings that were once part of a sewer pipe factory, which burned in the 1920s. The remnants of moss-covered steps climb a hillside.
The land trust plans to have the site nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
As part of a conservation management plan, the trust has spent the past several years uprooting invasive plants and trees, restoring habitats and developing trails. Relying on volunteers and working with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, it is also compiling an online searchable database of species inhabiting the forest, and in the spring it plans to begin replanting its inner understory with native plants.
Its conservation efforts have not gone unnoticed.
In January, the valley was designated a Wild Plant Sanctuary by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. A ceremony marking the honorary designation is scheduled for early May.
“It’s great to see areas like this being restored and coming back to life,” said Jason Ryndock, an ecological information specialist for DCNR. He noted that the county is home to only one other such sanctuary, Beckets Run Woodlands, a lush ravine in Forward that stretches over more than 100 acres.
As for how the valley got its eerie name, legends abound.
“I hear new stories all the time,” Ms. Rouse said. She cited one account, dating to the 1870s, of boys who found a corpse hanging by a noose from a tree. Several stories of unnatural deaths and spirit sightings at the site can be found on the website, hauntsandhistory.blogspot.com.
Dead Man’s Hollow was acquired by the Allegheny Land Trust in 1996, a couple of years after the nonprofit organization was formed following a public survey by the county planning department on issues that included the environment, housing and transportation. Around the same time of the survey, a study by the Allegheny County National Heritage Inventory highlighted the property’s ecological significance.
“There was a pretty strong response by the public” to create the land trust, said Roy Kraynyk, its vice president of land protection and capital projects.
Since then, the organization has protected about 2,100 acres, acquiring not only land but also conservation easements.
Among its conservation areas is Wingfield Pines, a former golf course in Upper St. Clair and South Fayette. Strip-mined in the 1940s, the more than 80-acre property features a passive treatment system to help protect Chartiers Creek from abandoned mine drainage.
The land trust is moving to conserve more land, having developed a regional conservation plan whose focal points include preserving biodiversity, managing stormwater and reviving the region’s natural scenery.
“I believe that more land needs to be protected in Allegheny County,” Mr. Kraynyk said, citing flooding and water quality issues.
Land conservation, along with other efforts to expand green infrastructure, “will play a role in addressing those problems," he said.
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