Volunteers work to keep park trails in good condition

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Hikers, runners, bikers and horseback riders might not like sharing the same woodland paths in area parks.

But they can unite for each other's benefit through the Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group — PTAG.

The all-volunteer, nonprofit organization seeks new members, especially equestrians, plus donations of hoes, rakes, saws, shovels and cash.

PTAG also seeks time and talents for projects ranging from removal of invader vegetation to erosion control on more than 200 miles of trails in 17 Western Pennsylvania parks.

“In general, we try to help the county — Allegheny County — build trails, maintain trails and ensure access for all users, and promote harmony between all users,” said orthopedic hand surgeon Dr. Jamie Pfaeffle of Pine, treasurer of PTAG's board of directors.

Prospective workers are invited to a steward orientation program from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 23 in Roosevelt Shelter on Parish Hill in North Park.

“I'm a huge supporter. They're sort of my heroes,” said Andy Baechle, director of the Allegheny County Parks Department. “They're willing to do what most people won't do for pay. They're an unbelievable group.”

Michelle Wojnar of O'Hara and her husband, Mike Frere, volunteer with PTAG as directors of annual races for mountain bikers and trail runners in North Park.

“We want to make sure those trails are maintained so our runners have a good experience,” said Wojnar, 35, a trail runner.

As PTAG volunteers, Wojnar and Frere also collect and remove trash discarded by race participants.

“We do a whole lot ... We all want to work together,” said PTAG board member Mary Lynn Marsico, 53, of Aspinwall, an intensive care nurse and avid hiker at Hartwood Acres. She also serves on PTAG's board of directors.

“We have a mantra. It's ‘Maintain. Protect. Build. Enjoy!'” Marsico said.

A basic, one-year, tax-deductible PTAG membership costs $25.

“We specialize in non-motorized use of park trails,” said PTAG founder Dave Biber, 52, of Bellevue. “We feel responsible for helping take care of them.”

PTAG volunteers built the North Park Freeride Area slated to reopen this spring. The area includes a free course for advanced mountain bike riders, plus a free course for beginners and children.

Other PTAG projects vary by park.

“They have stewards in different parks, and they'll have work days,” Marsico said. “It's up to the steward where you're going to work. … The steward will talk to you, and tell you exactly what the plan is for the day.”

Work sessions for PTAG volunteers typically begin at 9 or 10 a.m. on a Saturday, last about three hours, and include lunch.

“You have to dress appropriately to do trail work. You need to have your boots. ... They provide all the tools,” Marsico said. “There are some areas where you may have to put down gravel. Different trails may have run-off, so then there's erosion. They teach you how to fix that problem. ... It is actually a very good workout.”

To join PTAG or learn more, visit the group online at www.ptagtrails.org.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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