Plans for parks, trails along Allegheny River communities moving forward

Kayakers set sail on the Allegheny River on Thursday, June 14, 2018 at Aspinwall Riverfront Park.

Plans for a pair of parks and trails in communities along the Allegheny River are moving forward.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held June 3 at the future site of the Etna Riverfront Trail and Park. Late last month, Aspinwall, O’Hara and Sharpsburg unveiled plans for the Allegheny River Trail Park.

The Etna park, part of the extension of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail system, targets opening in the summer of 2020.

Meanwhile, the Etna Riverfront Trail will lead right to the Sharpsburg border, where it will mesh with the Allegheny River Trail Park. 

Following the June 3 groundbreaking, Sharpsburg council President Brittany Reno congratulated Mary Ellen Ramage, Etna’s borough manager, on an accomplishment that took years of “planning and fighting and fundraising.” Ms. Ramage said the feat required teamwork and support throughout the valley.

“Their trail, when it’s completed, will connect to South Main Street,” said Ms. Reno. “Right now it will at least connect safely to the Etna/Sharpsburg border.”

Plans for the initial phase of the Allegheny River Trail Park were introduced separately last month in Aspinwall, O’Hara and Sharpsburg by Balmori Associates, the international urban and landscape design firm developing the project. The communities have been planning for the park and trail since 2018.

Balmori partners Noemie Lafauri-Debany and Javier Gonzalez-Campana spent the week before Memorial Day educating residents about the plans and offering tours along the Allegheny River site. Now fundraising has begun.

The 1.5-mile-long, 25-acre site is “a major missing link in the trail system,” Ms. Lafauri-Debany said as she addressed a packed house at the May Sharpsburg council meeting. What’s now steep hillsides crowded with Japanese knotweed (an invasive species common to Asia), culverts carrying wastewater to the river and vacant former industrial sites could one day be a park and trail system.

Those in attendance viewed a video depicting the five zones planned for the metamorphosis: The River Gate, Forest Creek, Highlands, Meadows and Industrial Plains. As visitors hike, bike or drive into the gateway at 19th Street, the currently dark and crumbling overpass will have been opened up to reveal a fishing pier, lookouts, a community garden and the Sharpsburg Beach.

In addition, another restaurant, skate park or a bowling lawn could occupy the site of the former Silky’s restaurant.

A commuter bike trail will parallel the railroad tracks and take workers to Pittsburgh while a recreational biking and hiking trail will provide river views with shade from restored native plantings such as the sycamore trees for which the Allegheny’s Sycamore Island is named. The marina will remain open across from Six Mile Island.

“The park will become the front door for those entering the communities from Pittsburgh,” Ms. Lafauri-Debany said. From there, they may wander the streets of Sharpsburg and visit the shops and cafes along Main Street.

Mr. Gonzalez-Campana calls this first stage discovery and ecology and provided a web link for those who want to provide feedback.

Rita Michel, freelance writer: