Walkabout: City's newest park improved again by jewel of a trail
August 21, 2012 8:00 AM
Diana Nelson Jones
Thomas Guentner, head of the Emerald Trail Corps, on the latest completed mile of trail at Emerald View Park.
By Diana Nelson Jones Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One day many years from now, children will grow up on the trails of Emerald View Park thinking the park has always been there.
Our great-great grandparents watched the development of our other great parks, but we're the ones watching Emerald View march incrementally toward becoming a complete connection of green from Allentown to Mount Washington to Duquesne Heights.
Now in its seventh year as the city's fifth great park with 267 acres, it has a newly opened mile of developed trail, which the Mount Washington Community Development Corp. will celebrate today from 5 to 8 p.m. with trail tours, refreshments and entertainment at the Olympia Park pavilion. Attendees can pack a picnic for dinner. The community group asks that people call ahead at 412-481-3220 if they're coming.
Emerald View Park links existing smaller parks and green spaces in a loop. It goes along the hillside under Grandview Avenue from Grandview Park to Skookum Field at the western end of Duquesne Heights, and then south along the rim overlooking Route 51 to Southern Avenue.
The next connection, before fall, will allow people to take the trail from the Point of View statue on Grandview Avenue to connect to Greenleaf and Republic streets.
For the past two summers, the Emerald Trail Corps -- young trainees from the A. Philip Randolph Institute -- have created almost four miles of new trails.
Some of these young men were at risk to take less constructive paths. They were recruited to this work for their potential to make good use of the opportunity. They move boulders, fallen trees and tons of soil. They have to dig and hack old stumps and other debris. With volunteer help, they cleared the woods of eight tons of garbage. They get paid by the community group for work that will matter to this city long after they are gone.
Chris Smith of Greenfield has become an assistant crew leader at age 22 and said he regrets that the work is only seasonal.
"If I have the opportunity to come back next summer, no question," he said. "I like physical jobs. It's why I like this work so much." He said his co-workers are generally upbeat. "It brings out a lot of appreciation from people. We've encountered people on the trails who say they love what we're doing."
Thomas Guentner, head of the trail corps, and Kathryn Hunninen, the Mount Washington development group's parks and sustainability manager, met me at the trailhead near Olympia Park's soccer field for a tour.
The new loop incorporates Hallock Street and Athlone Way, both of which devolve into rubble at the woods.
"We've had multiple challenges on this end," Ms. Hunninen said -- rusted pipes, stone foundations and seeping underground water, possibly from a mine shaft. A stream had to be dammed and redirected.
The new loop has no dramatic views, but it is interesting without them. A gap that the crew created in the trees reveals a large marsh full of cattails in a ravine. A waterfall comes off the hillside and flows under a bridge made of blocks from the debris of old stone foundations in a stretch of ghost neighborhood.
At one point, the trail crosses a concrete platform that might have been part of a garage or a parking pad. The crews cleared it of several inches of dirt.
"We could have left the dirt and no one would know it's there, but we don't want to avoid these things," Mr. Guentner said. "They tell stories.
"This trail is running through a lot of stories. On one side, an abandoned house and on the other side, a dump. People came to dump because no one was here to care about it. Well, now we're here. Anyone with an eye for detail can see the amount of work my guys have put down."
Mr. Guentner said he has encouraged his crews to recognize features that make the trail interesting, such as a tree that forms a natural arch overhead. "Without thinking, they might have cleared that away, but they got it. They told me they thought it was cool."
Further along, he put his hand on the bark of an enormous white oak.
"I knew the trail needed to go beside this tree," he said. "People need to see this tree. It might be as old as Pittsburgh."