A new trail loop is nearing completion in Emerald View Park, and funders and other supporters were given a recent tour, with a picnic near the trailhead at Mount Washington Park off Norton Street.
Ilyssa Manspeizer, the director of park development and conservation for the Mount Washington Community Development Corp., joked during Thursday's tour that "you all may hate me for this" because much of the trail was uphill slog and downhill skid from recent rains. The 20 hikers were enthusiastic after catching their breath along a span of flat rubble that was once a road.
"It's so cool to have this in my own neighborhood," said state Rep. Erin Molchany D-Mount Washington, who joined a group that included representatives of the PNC Foundation, Duquesne Light and Citiparks.
The latest installment needs some finishing touches, which should be completed by the end of September, said Kathryn Hunninen, the development corporation's parks and sustainability manager.
City council established the park -- Pittsburgh's fifth regional park -- in 2005 and gave it 235 public acres. The community development corporation is overseeing the park and fundraising for the work. The park ultimately will be about 280 acres with 19 miles of trails.
Ms. Manspeizer said $4.4 million has been raised so far and that a revised master plan will indicate what the remaining budget will be. The park is several years from having a completed trail network.
This is the third year the nonprofit has hired a crew of young men and women to work seasonally to create trails that join old trails, connecting Duquesne Heights, Mount Washington and Allentown by incorporating neighborhood sidewalks and smaller parks -- Grandview, Mount Washington, Olympia and the Grandview Overlook hillside.
Tom Guentner is the leader of two crews with an assistant leader in each.
The crews of mostly men, aged 18 to 21, start the job having never cut down a tree, moved a boulder, hacked out old stumps or hauled hundreds of pounds of soil. This year's crew includes five who have returned for two years and, in Shawn Taylor's case, three.
Mr. Taylor became an assistant crew leader and said his return "is about the difficulty in trying to find [other] employment, and these are good people, a good organization. Plus I was one of the beginners of this and I want to be one of the finishers."
Before they are hired, they complete the Green Jobs Training Program at the A. Philip Randolph Institute Downtown. It is a partnership with the United Steelworkers and GTECH Strategies to channel youth at risk of destructive lifestyles from job training to waiting jobs.
Elroy Moore, who had never been in the woods before he applied for this job, is working on the crew by day and at a convenience store at night.
"I always say this is my relaxing job because I can get out into the woods," he said. "The work and the heat is challenging, but it's cool."
At a particularly chunky downhill curve on the tour, he told the hikers, "This is the before picture. It won't look like this when you come back."
He recalls the before before-picture: "There was no path here, just trees and brush" and tangles of vines.
"What they've done since July is remarkable," Ms. Manspeizer said, adding, "as it always is."
Tony Bose of Hazelwood is back this year as a crew member and is one of several who said they would come back given the opportunity despite the physical demands.
"That's what I like about it," Mr. Bose said. "I like a hard task. It makes the day go faster."
Besides the crew, more than 1,000 volunteers have worked on the park since its inception, removing more than 250,000 pounds of trash, mostly from dump sites. Volunteers working in the most recent trail installment removed 35,000 pounds, including 150 tires. To pass the tires forward to a clearing, they formed a chain in the mud and muck.
So far, trails have been completed from Grandview Park to Skookum Field at the western end; from the Point of View statue on Grandview Avenue to connect with Greenleaf and Republic streets; south along the rim overlooking Route 51 to Southern Avenue; and a loop from Olympia Park's soccer field, incorporating Hallock Street and Athlone Way.
This latest trail is steep and includes several switchbacks. It descends into a deep, boggy ravine that's a silent template for singing birds, just a five-minute climb to a ridge overlooking the rush and roar of Route 51.
Mr. Guentner said dirt bikes, which are not permitted on the trails, have continued to use them and are creating erosion problems while the crews are engineering the trails to keep runoff at a minimum. The hikers noted grooves from bike tracks and stopped to marvel at a tree that had grown up around a bicycle tire rim. A car engine visible from the trail might be left there as a reminder of man's impact, Mr. Taylor said.
"We have hauled shopping carts, bowling balls, refrigerators and a lot of construction debris out of here," Ms. Manspeizer said. Contractors remain the culprit in dump sites on Mount Washington and citywide, she said, but they may be nearing the end of that mentality, thanks to a growing awareness of how much of an asset the city's green spaces are.
"Generations of people dumped because it was considered a wasteland," she said. "But it's not a wasteland. It's important."