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Teamwork helps shape Turtle Creek Greenway

| Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, 10:51 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Tribune-Review
In addition to work on the Turtle Creek Rail Trail, along a 9.5-mile stretch linking several surrounding communities in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, local groups are also working to establish the Turtle Creek Greenway, a contiguous, uninterrupted stretch of undeveloped land adjacent to the creek.

Just south of Route 22 in western Murrysville, the land begins to slope downward toward Turtle Creek, through woodlands studded with sycamore, sweet birch and box elder maple trees.

And as local government, preservation and environmental groups work to extend the Westmoreland Heritage Trail through the area, they also are focused on saving what has come to be called the Turtle Creek Greenway: a continuous, uninterrupted natural area running from Duff Park in Murrysville to the floodplain on the western side of Trafford, which connects the trail to several other regional parks.

“It's an area that should be preserved,” said Westmoreland County Parks Planning Coordinator Malcolm Sias, who walked 22 miles of the railroad corridor in 2003. “When we got down into that section around Duff Park, we realized what a fantastic and beautiful natural area that is.”

The Regional Trail Corporation in West Newton hired an engineering firm in 2011 to officially develop the Turtle Creek Greenway Plan, identifying properties near the rail line — which largely follows Turtle Creek — that would not just preserve the corridor itself but connect it to existing parks and undeveloped areas in Murrysville, Monroeville, Penn Township and Trafford.

“We talked to landowners about their willingness to either donate property or sell it at less than market value,” Sias said. “Most of it is in the floodplain or along these steep slopes that aren't really developable.”

Several were interested. Murrysville residents Theo and Pia Van de Venne donated about 50 acres to expand Duff Park in 2013. That donation was leveraged to secure a state grant and acquire an additional 50 acres connecting Duff Park to Pleasant Valley Park.

In 2015, the estate of Evelyn Farmer donated 13 acres north of Meadowbrook Road to Murrysville for inclusion in the greenway.

In Monroeville, several pieces of property identified as potential greenway inclusions are owned by the municipality.

“There's little pieces being fit together,” Sias said.

In addition to trail development and preserving greenway property, other groups are working to mitigate environmental issues within the Turtle Creek watershed.

“The one big environmental problem in that area is mine drainage into the stream,” said Charles Duritsa, chair of the Westmoreland Land Trust and a member of the Turtle Creek Watershed Association board. “We're hoping to get some money in the future to address drainage coming from (former mines in) White Valley and Export.”

In addition, the Westmore­land Conservation District has done stream bank restoration work along Turtle Creek in recent years.

The goal is to maintain a relatively pristine stretch of land that is situated in the middle of ongoing development, Duritsa said.

“The corridor itself surprised me in terms of how beautiful and undeveloped it is,” he said. “It's critical that we protect that.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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