Hollow Oak Land Trust creates program to get younger people involved in preserving green space
When it comes to land conservation, youths might be able to offer fresher, more innovative ideas, according to the head of a nonprofit land trust.
“It's amazing how many opportunities exist out there but the people — the adults — that have been involved (in conservation) for years have failed to recognize them or failed to activate these opportunities,” said Sean Brady, executive director of the Hollow Oak Land Trust, which preserves green space, with an emphasis in the Pittsburgh International Airport corridor.
The land trust recently created the Youth Land Stewardship Program to attract and engage youngsters in habitat management and improvement, trail stewardship and building, and environmental monitoring, Brady said.
Hundreds of students volunteer for land trust activities throughout the year, but often it's for just one day, he said.
“This is going to give us an opportunity to provide a deeper learning experience through which students can contribute more meaningfully to the land trust while also benefiting through more meaningful learning experiences,” he said.
In addition, the land trust is trying to attract young members, typically college students, by expanding benefits offered under its $15 per student membership. Those benefits now include a nature hike for them and their friends at the Montour Woods Conservation Area, in addition to the pre-existing access to other special events.
“(The goal is to) perhaps give them comfort in being with their friends to exploring something new, with their own friends, so they can compare notes and perhaps form teams ... which allows them to take on larger projects,” said Brady, who said there are a handful of student members.
Moon resident Austin Jepsky, 17, is one of about six students participating in the Youth Land Stewardship Program.
His family is one of 200 households that are members of the trust, and Jepsky began volunteering with the trust two years ago in order to gain community service experience for his college applications.
Projects have included surveying fish at Meeks Run in Moon and building trails.
His Moon Area High School senior project is with the land trust, and his volunteerism has included assisting with building trails, surveying trail users, planting trees and building benches.
“The land trust is a starting-off point where Pittsburgh has gone through a long series of pollution and disregard for environmental affairs. The land trust and other groups like it, they are the first steps in finally starting to rejuvenate the ecology of the area,” Jepsky said.
Hollow Oak owns six conservation areas of undeveloped land totaling more than 400 acres in Coraopolis, Hopewell, Kennedy, Moon and North Fayette near the airport and in Franklin Park in the North Hills.
One of its planned projects is to establish or improve 10 miles of public hiking and biking trail, called the Montour Woods Greenway, that will link the 300-acre Moon Township Park, 46-mile Montour Trail and the Montour Woods Conservation Area.
The land trust's biggest challenge is addressing outdated land use and planning, Brady said.
“There is a major lack of connectivity in the Pittsburgh area. Most green spaces exist as islands, whether it's a community park or a housing plan with a small trail, they don't link into a larger network of trails and green spaces,” especially outside of the city of Pittsburgh, he said.
One benefit of increasing the number of youth volunteers is they will bring fresh perspectives about how to connect green spaces to where people live and work, he said.
Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or email@example.com.