ShareThis Page

Hollow Oak Land Trust creates program to get younger people involved in preserving green space

| Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, 11:55 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Moon Area High School senior Austin Jepsky (left), 17, of Moon, stands for a portrait in a stand of trees with Hollow Oak Land Trust Executive Director Sean Brady (right) of Observatory Hill at the Montour Woods Conservation Area in Coraopolis on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. Hollow Oak Land Trust is trying to attract younger members like Jepsky, who is working on planting native trees and bettering paths in the conservation area as part of his senior project.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Hollow Oak Land Trust Executive Director Sean Brady (center) points to the trail map at the start of the land trust's 8 miles of trails as he directs a family on a hike at the Montour Woods Conservation Area in Coraopolis on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. Student members of the land trust receive special benefits, such as a nature hike for themselves and their friends at the Montour Woods Conservation Area.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Hollow Oak Land Trust Executive Director Sean Brady (left) of Observatory Hill talks to Moon Area High School senior Austin Jepsky (right), 17, of Moon, about plant life along Meeks Run in the Montour Woods Conservation Area in Coraopolis on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. Jepsky is one of the new student members at the land trust, but he has been volunteering with the organization for years.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Moon Area High School senior Austin Jepsky, 17, of Moon, uses a stone to drive a stake into the ground next to a native oak tree he planted at Hollow Oak Land Trust's Montour Woods Conservation Area in Coraopolis on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. Jepsky studied native species in order to plan out the right trees to plant by Meeks Run along the land trust's 8 miles of trails.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Hollow Oak Land Trust Executive Director Sean Brady (right) of Observatory Hill talks to Moon Area High School senior Austin Jepsky (right), 17, of Moon, about plant life along Meeks Run in the Montour Woods Conservation Area in Coraopolis on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. Jepsky is one of the new student members at the land trust, but he has been volunteering with the organization for years.

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 tparrish@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.