Non-profit marks 20 years of trails

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

Friends of the Riverfront has produced a beautiful magazine to commemorate its 20-year riverfront3journey from a vision to becomming an agent of culture change in Pittsburgh.

Called “Forging Connections: Twenty Years of Building the Three Rivers Heritage Trail,” it is available here by clicking on “support us” then on “benefits.” All these photos are in the book and FotR approved our use of them here.

riverfront2The photo above shows a woodsy section of the South Side and the one at left shows a before/after contrast along a South Side segment.

In 1991, members of the riverfront committee of the local Sierra Club proposed forming an advocacy organization to push for a trail that would loop around Downtown. Sarah Carr, program manager for FotR said this coincided with growing public interest in turning our rivers into gateways instead of industrial toilets.

“There were outdoor folks, political folks, a diverse group who all shared the interest and vision,” she said.

The original plan for a small trail around Downtown on the rivers — to turn wasteland into a green network — was bold enough at the time but it came amid a national  movement for rails-to-trails and other reuses of industrial sites.

riverfrontbeforeThese two photos (at left and below) are a North Shore before/after.

In 20 years, FotR has spurred a regionwide trail system that will stretch to Washington, D.C. and link with trails north, west and south.

“We are a member of the Pittsburgh Trail Alliance going to Erie and the Great Allegheny Passage to Washington,” she said, “and what we still continue to do is focus on trails in Allegheny County and continuous connections.”

Starting with the North Shore segment that went east from the Clemente Bridge in 1994, the local network now stretches beyond the city to Millvale, Baldwin and along the Ohio past Brunot Island, 22 miles in all with more planned.riverfrontafter

This project has spanned four city administrations and forged maintenance agreements with numerous neighboring municipalities. One of the next pieces will extend out of Larryville to Morningside and Highland Park.

The bulk of funding comes from grants, memberships and private donors, Sarah said.

In the early days, volunteers cleared trash, debris, big rocks, weeds and junk trees from riversides to clear the way for trails. Some segments need some heavier intervention but volunteers still steward the trail system.riverfront1

I remember that first little piece of trail on the North Shore and thinking how great it would be if you could go everywhere on trails to bridges, but I never dreamed the momentum would continue.

If someone had told me in 1991 that my wish might come true in 20 years, I’d have said, “Twenty years! You’ve got to be kidding me!

It would have seemed like such a long time to wait, but it wasn't a matter of waiting because it was 20 years of process and progress.

Now I know. For a really big vision, 20 years is about how long something takes. And if it is a really great idea, it keeps rolling, a downhill glide, no pedaling needed.

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