Etna Manager Mary Ellen Ramage recalled a meeting long ago when the term “river town” had negative connotations, she said, speaking to a crowd from inside a tent at the foot of the 62nd Bridge, overlooking the Allegheny River.
“Here we are today, and it’s an awesome thing,” she said.
The group gathered June 3 for the groundbreaking of the Etna Riverfront Park and Trail. The project will provide a connection for the Three Rivers Heritage Trail — a multi-use, 24-mile trail with riverfront segments — and the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail.
In addition to the trail, a grandstand and scenic overlook with a potential entertainment venue could attract visitors. Furthermore, the park may contain a water wall circulating potable water from the Hampton Shaler Water Authority, located in an adjacent building.
The panels’ ambient light and sound would add to the display, according to the Etna Economic Development Corp. website.
Architectural firm Environmental Planning and Design, and Frank Zottola Construction are responsible for the project, with Phase I slated to open at the end of September 2019 and Phase II scheduled to open summer 2020.
“This is not just a great day for Etna, and for the adjoining members of Sharpsburg and Shaler, it really is for the entire region. This is a major part of an economic strategy, of a quality of life strategy and an improvement of the environment strategy. This is what they call a win, win, win down the line,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.
“This is a symbol: I think that this is a start for Etna to become a community where everyone of every age, ability, walk of life, has a safe space to get about our town,” said Tom Hill Jr. of the Etna Pedestrian Alliance.
“We have great businesses, we have great things going on and this park now represents a chance for all of us to get from point A to point B safely because safe mobility and safe accessibility to our resources is not just something that we can show off, but it is a right of every citizen of Etna and every citizen of the area.”
Ramage shared the property’s history. In 2009, Etna joined 16 other communities in the Allegheny County Community Trails Initiative to connect Millvale to Freeport.
The area was a sand and gravel plant, prior to its abandonment, Ramage said. A nearby building housed the Etna Water Treatment Plant until 1984 when Hampton Shaler Water Authority gained operations.
In 2014, Friends of the Riverfront purchased the plant with the stipulation Etna Borough secure ownership within five years for the purpose of a trail and park.
Ramage said Etna encountered a major obstacle regarding the construction of a costly overpass.
In Etna, rail lines run parallel to the river.
The track’s owners, Norfolk Southern, said the crossing was its private property, meaning cyclists and pedestrians could not use it to cross the tracks to gain trail access.
If private, access would occur by constructing an overpass or flyover, which would have cost an estimated $2.3 million.
Darla Cravotta, county community relations and special projects director, discovered an Etna deed from the 1800s listed the crossing as public, not private. Additionally, there was a similar note on the Federal Railroad Administration website.
“We took Norfolk southern to the PUC (Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission), and it was confirmed on this very site in August of 2017 that this was indeed a public crossing. That act alone saved $2.3 million. So, hallelujah,” Ramage said.
Meanwhile, Etna and Shaler are partnering on plans for a Pine Creek Connector Trail, which will allow people to park at the Shaler Kiwanis Club and ride to Etna.