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Friends of the Riverfront plan to bring park to Etna

| Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, 8:12 p.m.
Pat Alexander, from Millvale, and Emily Bonk, of McCandless, walk Pietra, a German Shepherd, on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
Pat Alexander, from Millvale, and Emily Bonk, of McCandless, walk Pietra, a German Shepherd, on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
Susan Foley, from Shaler, walks along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
Susan Foley, from Shaler, walks along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

Over the next three years, a former sand and gravel plant near the 62nd Street Bridge in Etna will be transformed into a riverfront park.

Friends of the Riverfront, a Pittsburgh based nonprofit organization that has raised money to connect the Three Rivers Heritage Trail from downtown Pittsburgh to Millvale, presented a plan for the park at a community meeting last month.

About 40 residents attended the meeting, along with borough officials and about 10 Shaler residents.

“Before we moved forward, we wanted to reach out to the public to make sure this is what they wanted,” said Tom Baxter, the executive director of Friends of the Riverfront.

Etna council members voiced their approval for the trail, while Friends of the Riverfront so far have raised about half of the $3 million need to build the park.

Borough manager Mary Ellen Ramage, a lifelong resident of Etna, said the park is necessary to attract visitors and home buyers to the community.

“Right now (the area) is just a wasteland, and it's the door to our community,” Ramage said. “There's one tree on the whole site.”

In addition to the park, members of Friends of the Riverfront will continue to discuss with Norfolk Southern railroad officials the logistics of extending the trail to Etna and beyond.

“It's part of larger vision of trails throughout Allegheny County,” Baxter said. “We've got a lot more work to do.”

An extension of the trail to Etna not only would allow for an alternate route to downtown Pittsburgh but also could help the local economy.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and Friends of the Riverfront reported an annual economic impact in 2014 of $8.2 million, which included the cost of meals and beverages in towns along the trail, according to the Friends of the Riverfront website.

Etna residents' desire for more green space is evident in the popularity of the town's only nature trail, located behind the community baseball fields, Ramage said.

“Those things have an impact on people as they grow up,” she said.

Kyle Lawson is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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