Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in North Fayette to open first phase
After 16 years of delays because of issues of abandoned mine lands, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in North Fayette will finally open its first phase Aug. 1.
But some of the features that visitors to the garden won't necessarily see have environmental officials excited.
“This site is a microcosm of our entire mission,” says Christopher Holmes, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Botanic Garden projects involved cleaning up abandoned mine lands, removing safety hazards and resolving drinking water issues. An acid-mine drainage-treatment bed that will continue to function adjacent to a pond won the Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence for filtering out aluminum hydroxide.
David Hamilton, regulatory program specialist with the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement office in Pittsburgh, calls the various Botanic Garden projects “a trifecta,” because they have resolved or will resolve issues of acid-mine drainage, subsidence and existing coal on the site, while eventually allowing for reforestation. The 460 acres planned for the first and future phases of the Botanic Garden were used over the centuries as farmland, strip mines and deep mines.
Because the land had been cleared over the years for farming and mining uses, only about 30 native species of trees have returned, out of a total of 120 native species, Botanic Garden President Greg Nace says. Botanic Garden officials hope to encourage or plant many more in future phases of the garden.
David Quatchak, a founding member of the Horticultural Society of Western Pennsylvania, which later became the Botanic Garden, says the garden's Dogwood Meadow has one of the few natural dogwood-tree groves in the area.
“About 95 percent of (dogwoods) were wiped out in the 1980s in northern Allegheny County” and farther north, Quatchak says. The dogwood decline resulted from a convergence of various diseases and unfavorable weather.
But the 22 or so naturally seeded dogwoods at the new Pittsburgh Botanic Garden thrived in the face of the anthracnose fungus and other factors to become the centerpiece of the Dogwood Meadow. The meadow area also contains a gazebo that can be rented for events, and large boulders for informal seating.
“It's nice because (the garden) will feature a highly desirable native tree,” says Quatchak of Franklin Park. “One of the reasons for the Botanic Garden is to preserve the use of certain plants. It may boost people planting them again.”
The 60-acre Woodlands section that will open next week features five areas: a Cove Forest, an Asian Garden, European and English woodlands and an Appalachian Plateau. Cove forests are unique to the Appalachians and lie in small valleys closed at one or both ends.
Other phases will open in stages over years of future development, Nace says. Display gardens will be in the second phase that Nace says will begin next year.
Pittsburgh firm Marshall, Tyler and Rausch designed the garden's master plan, the first phase of which cost about $7 million so far, including $4.5 million in grants. Additions to be added to the first phase will eventually boost the total cost to $10 million.
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan pummeled the property, flooding abandoned mines on the site and creating acid mine drainage on the central ridge of the Botanic Garden. And other areas of the 460-acre site had mine subsidence that could be dangerous to the public and coal in abandoned mines that could create more environmental problems.
“Because of (these) problems, donors took a wait-and-see attitude,” Holmes says. “It's extremely expensive to handle, and not a cheap or easy solution.”
To resolve the problem of acid-mine drainage, the Botanic Garden had a rectangular limestone treatment bed installed adjacent to a pond in the Asian Woodland section of the garden's first phase. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation provided a $98,750 grant for the project. The pond is now a focal point of the first phase of the Botanic Garden, with its new arching Japanese bridge. A Japanese garden and teahouse will be built later near the water.
The Botanic Garden is also in the process of having coal removed from the southern and central ridges and also high walls and timbers from the former mines. Costs of the project will come from the sale of the coal.
Once the coal is removed and the mines are filled in, the tops of the ridges will be restored. Instead of compacting the restored soil, as is commonly done with former mine properties, workers will install hillocks of loose soil 4 to 6 feet deep to encourage reforestation. Trees do not grow well on mine lands with compacted soil, Nace says.
“This really ramps up demonstrating our mission,” Hamilton says of the reclamation. “That's why we're really excited about working with the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.”
Other highlights of the Woodlands include a Storybook House in Bookworm Glen, where children can enter a playhouse and choose children's books to read. Another child-friendly area contains shelves of cubbies full of stones, bark, pinecones and other natural materials children can use to create projects.
Community volunteers helped by removing invasive plants, building trails, stocking bird feeders in winter, building a sheep shed or making donations. Bayer Corp. is planning to donate a 650-foot building designed by Penn State architectural students to the Botanic Garden. The building, which garden officials will pay to have installed, will house a reception area near the Botanic Garden barn.
The barn, part of the former farm property, will eventually be available to rent for weddings and other events.
“This will be planted with all kinds of annuals and perennials and be enclosed with a deer fence,” Nace says of the wedding garden behind the barn.
The barn's lower level and the log house will be used as educational classrooms for visitors. About three miles of trails in the Woodlands area will be open for hiking and wandering, half of which are handicapped-accessible. A log cabin and orchard also are on the site.
Nace says the Botanic Garden's future phases will gradually unfold. He points out that the Chicago Botanic Garden opened in the early 1970s and is now just about completed. “(Development of the garden is) going to be a multi-generational thing,” he says.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden will host Amy Stewart, author of “The Drunken Botanist — The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks,” for two events on Aug. 7. At 10 a.m., Stewart and Botanic Garden President Greg Nace will lead a tour of the garden followed by lunch at Meat & Potatoes, Downtown, and a tasting of a few drinks from the book. Cost is $150 for the tour and lunch. From 7 to 9 p.m., Stewart will give a talk on her book, and there will be tastings of cocktails from the book and gin-and-whiskey tastings from Wigle Whiskey. Cost is $59.99. Details: 412-444-4464