Hazelwood Initiative wants to increase urban forest

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Once one of Pittsburgh's smokiest neighborhoods, Hazelwood is turning former industrial moonscape into chunks of urban forest.

The Hazelwood Initiative, a neighborhood group, is petitioning the city to nearly double the size of the Hazelwood Greenway, from 70 to 120 acres. Reclassifying the land — about 100 abandoned, city-owned properties — as greenway would mean they remain forested.

“It's an exciting thing for a community,” said Jim Richter, executive director of Hazelwood Initiative. “It creates green space that's valuable. The more green you have, the more ecologically and environmentally sound your area is.”

The City Planning Commission was scheduled to hear the request on Tuesday but canceled because of the inclement weather. The commission will forward its recommendation to City Council, which must vote on the request.

Richter said the community aims to develop the land that extends in swatches from Browns Hill Road in the east to Greenfield Avenue in the west into a park with paved trails, pavilions and informational signs.

Much of the property is clustered near Sylvan Avenue, he said, and overgrown, on steep slopes and undermined. A crude but walkable trail runs along an abandoned section of Sylvan to Greenfield Avenue. Volunteers have cut a better trail in another section of the greenway. That half-mile trail runs from East Elizabeth Street to Kinglake Street.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office supports the effort, spokeswoman Joanna Doven said.

“Part of the mayor's strategy for neighborhoods is turning underutilized land into green spaces,” she said, noting that Emerald View Park in Mt. Washington was developed in much the same way.

Hazelwood was once known for its Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. mill that belched black soot from its coke plant along the Monongahela River. Four Pittsburgh charities that own the former mill site under a partnership known as Almono are trying to develop the property; a portion is dedicated to green space, according to preliminary plans. Two additional miles of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail opened into the Almono site this year.

Myrna Newman, executive director of the environmental group Allegheny CleanWays, said Hazelwood has more green space than most city neighborhoods. CleanWays has cleaned several illegal dump sites on the greenway.

“Frankly, it's a pretty big amount of green space within the city that is not park land but has a lot of the attributes of park land. It has opportunities for recreation and it provides a wildlife corridor,” she said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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