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Allegheny Land Trust developing more trails in Barking Slopes in Plum

| Monday, July 17, 2017, 10:10 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Volunteers, along with members of the Allegheny Land Trust, clear new trails and remove trash along a 2-mile stretch of the Barking Slopes Conservation Area during a litter cleanup event last Saturday, May 7, 2016.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Bill Pfahl of O'Hara Township and Caitlin Seiler of the Allegheny Land Trust clear new trails and remove trash along a 2-mile stretch of the Barking Slopes Conservation Area during a litter cleanup event last Saturday, May 7, 2016.

This past spring, Todd Hooe spotted a Great Horned Owlet along the trails of the Barking Slopes Conservation Area.

Hooe, who lives in Pittsburgh's Morningside neighborhood but travels to Plum to birdwatch, has identified 142 different species of birds at Barking Slopes since 2014. But the owl sighting topped them all.

“I go primarily for bird watching, but I love the peace and serenity that comes from spending time in nature,” Hooe said. “Barking Slopes is a special place that is always full of surprises.”

The steep, wooded hills and ridges of the 151-acre Barking Slopes — an Allegheny Land Trust site along the Allegheny River near the Oakmont Country Club – is undergoing a development project with a goal of providing more hiking trail and better connection between the upper and lower trailheads.

“These trails weren't what we called sustainable trails, and they lack connection,” said Kerri Rouse, community coordinator for the Sewickley-based Allegheny Land Trust. “We had our first push to start implementing that trail plan starting this spring.”

The trust acquired the land sporadically between 1997 and 2005 in order to preserve its biodiversity. It has been working since to remove non-native species — brought in by people — in order to return the land to its natural state.

In April, volunteers began moving ground for a trail stretching ¾ of a mile along the Allegheny River. It's about 3-feet wide and is generally a flat hike. Hooe, one of those volunteers, helped to clear vegetation during the first step of the project.

Volunteers then came in with tools called McLeod's, which move rock and dirt to establish the trail.

So far, the land trust has nearly completed the lower level trail beginning from Barking Road. The next step, Rouse said, is to create better access to the trails from parking lots as well as rehabilitate the uplands that begin at Coxcomb Road.

“The hillside is very steep, and we need money to put in a set of stairs,” Rouse said. “Connecting to the upper section would not be so gentle of a hike, but we are still figuring out how to make that happen.”

But Rouse said future work depends on donations and funds coming in to the land trust.

“We're seeking more funding and I'm working to come up with a property management plan in the meantime,” Rouse said.

The hope is that more local residents will utilize the trails and become aware of its habitat.

Although improvements have been made, Hooe said they are far from finished.

“There is much work to be done still, but I am excited to see how the trail system develops in the future.”

And the new trails will continue to face sustainability issues, both Rouse and Hooe said, if people keep bringing in quads, dirt bikes and other motor vehicles to Barking Slopes.

“They are extremely destructive to the flora and fauna that makes Barking Slopes so special,” Hooe said. “My hope is that more responsible visitors will come to hike the trails, birdwatch, enjoy the wildflowers and the great views of the Allegheny that Barking Slopes provides.”

Christine Manganas is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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