McKinley Park in Beltzhoover is one of Pittsburgh's oldest parks and, aside from the city's five regional parks, its largest. But its grandeur has gone largely unnoticed by residents citywide.
Until recently, the park greeted the neighborhood with a crumbling 1930s stone wall and a barren, patched asphalt parking lot. Today, a repaired wall, a porous parking lot surrounded by rain gardens and other landscaping, connective pathways, new classic lamp posts and benches deliver a different message.
"It's not just about the park," state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, said Friday at a dedication ceremony. "It's what it means to the people."
"As many generations that have been able to touch that wall, that many more generations now will be able to touch it, sit on it and create new memories," said Eric Ford, president of the Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council. "A year ago, this was just a vision."
At the request of city Councilman Bruce Kraus and Mr. Wheatley, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy last year began planning with the Department of Public Works and Citiparks for a $250,000 makeover of the entrance on Delmont Avenue. Funding came from various state and city sources and from the Birmingham Foundation.
The work began in the spring.
"Wow," said state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, upon his arrival for the event. "What a difference."
"What an unheralded gem we have here," said city Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, in whose District 4 the park lies. "When we talk about our park system we talk about Riverview, Frick and Schenley. One day, I want to see McKinley at the top of that list."
Susan Rademacher, conservancy curator and McKinley project manager, said a goal is to extend the pathways to connect all parts of the park. Known by park users as "upper" and "lower" McKinley Park, it has its greatest visibility in the baseball field and tennis courts along Bausman Street.
A city park since 1898, when the city annexed Beltzhoover Borough, it is 79 acres, much of it woodlands, with ravines and a neglected trail system.
On Friday, day campers in purple T-shirts filled the basketball court that lies a gentle slope down from the parking lot.
"The goal was to reconnect people to the park, make people feel more comfortable in the park, to improve accessibility and its historic features," said Meg Cheever, the conservancy's president and CEO.
Landscape architect A.J. Schwartz of Environmental Planning & Design said the entrance improvements were "a first step" toward making the park more accessible. "Before, you had to walk through the parking lot to get from the basketball court to the rec center and through the grass to get to the playground."
He said the porous parking lot -- the first in a city park that the city will be maintaining -- "is kind of a test case to see if we can do this in other parks."
One other porous lot in the city's park system, in Schenley Park, is maintained by Phipps Conservatory, said Ms. Rademacher.
"The city recognizes that this is the future and [public works] has learned how to keep this clean," by vacuuming or power washing, she said. The pores in the asphalt have to be free of dirt to absorb water quickly. The porosity has exceeded expectations, she said, especially given this week's heavy rains, during which there was not enough runoff to register in an overflow rock pit.
Mr. Schwartz poured some water from a cup to show how the parking lot acts as a sponge.
"It's ironic that we're standing here just days after a landmark rainfall," said Ms. Rudiak. "Porous pavement, bioswales, rain gardens: Those aren't buzz words. It's what we're surrounded by today. We should be proud that this is one of the solutions to our stormwater problems."