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Allegheny River Towns Enterprise Zone gets $250K grant to link Etna, trail

| Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Etna, the Allegheny River Towns Enterprise Zone and other organizations are partnering to develop riverfront access through the Etna Riverfront Park project.

ARTEZ recently was awarded a $250,000 state grant to help connect Etna to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and establish safer pedestrian and bicycle access with the borough's neighboring river towns.

The money is from the state's Multimodal Transportation Fund, which “provides grants to encourage economic development, and ensure that a safe and reliable system of transportation is available to residents of the commonwealth,” said Heidi Havens, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

The Etna Riverfront Park project will transform about 1.5 acres of brownfield into a park site, about 25 feet above the Allegheny River's edge, next to the 62nd Street Bridge. Preliminary site work could start in spring 2015.

Friends of the Riverfront purchased the property three years ago for an extension of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and develop a park for Etna. At the time, there was an agreement that Etna would take ownership of the property.

The borough has been working with ARTEZ, the project's coordinator, as well as Friends of the Riverfront, Allegheny County officials and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to make a park-trail connection in the area.

ARTEZ's main goal is to provide the region and its seven member communities — Millvale, Shaler, Etna, Sharpsburg, Aspinwall, Blawnox and O'Hara — with direct access to the riverfront. That's something that most of post-industrial urban areas in Western Pennsylvania have lacked, said Iris Whitworth, executive director of ARTEZ.

The park is considered a crucial link in development of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which is Pittsburgh's hub for trail system connections to routes such as the Great Allegheny Passage, the Erie-to-Pittsburgh Trail, the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway and a planned connection to the Montour Trail.

“Etna's riverfront park is a stepping stone for building the Three Rivers Heritage Trail connection back downstream to the current terminus at Millvale, as well as upstream to Sharpsburg and beyond,” Whitworth said. “We are working with coordinating partners to negotiate the trail connection between Millvale and Etna through Shaler Township.”

Whitworth said the section will be challenging because of points where the rail lines and the river run close together.

“This section is a not a quick, easy, or inexpensive build, but we recognize it's a critical one,” she said.

Extending the Three Rivers Heritage Trail up the Allegheny River is part of regional, statewide and national initiatives.

“We currently have $525,000 secured and are around 50 percent funded,” Whitworth said.

Chasity Capasso is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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