Winners Of Western PA Environmental Awards Announced, Dinner May 26

The Winners of the 2011 Western PA Environmental Awards will be honored at an awards dinner on May 26 at Stage AE on Pittsburgh's North Shore hosted by the PA Environmental Council and supported by Dominion and other benefactors.
            The emcee for this special event will be Sally Wiggin, WTAE Channel 4.  The keynote speakers invited to attend will be: Richard Allan, acting Secretary Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and David Raphael, Chief Counsel, Department of Environmental Protection.
            The winners of the Western PA Environmental Awards are:

-- Allegheny Valley Trails Association, Franklin: The Allegheny Valley Trails Association’s mission as an all-volunteer non-profit is the acquisition of abandoned railways in the Allegheny River watershed and their rehabilitation into multipurpose, non-motorized recreational trails.
            Protection of the riparian corridor of a Wild and Scenic river, protection of large areas of open space and important habitat, protection of the viewshed and corridor from development and perhaps most importantly, connecting people with these outdoor resources are all essential in today’s economy that is pushing for development.  
            AVTA began by researching rail bed ownership and obtaining rights to rail corridors, a long tedious process.  Success in developing the trails also required the cooperation of property owners adjacent to the trails, which demanded a great deal of work to communicate with the owners and convince them of the benefits of the trails.  AVTA now owns and operates the 34.2 mile Allegheny River Trail along the Allegheny River, the 12 mile Sandy Creek Trail along Sandy Creek and a total of over 330 acres.  
            Through AVTA’s efforts, agreements with other landowners and partnerships with related organizations, over 40 miles of riparian corridor are protected from development.  And, regionally through AVTA and others, there are over 60 miles of trails that are connecting nearly 160,800 trail users per year with the great outdoors.  A healthy, fully accessible recreational amenity has led to a renewed attention to the local waterways, conservation easements, restoration projects and the development of regional organizations focused on more extensive greenways efforts.
            As the trail has developed, the economic benefits to the trail communities have become more apparent and significant.  In 2010 the city of Franklin was designated as a Bicycle Friendly Community through the League of American Bicyclists.  Emlenton and Foxburg, just off Interstate 80, are rapidly becoming hubs for the trail with new businesses opening. 
            New residents have moved to or retired to this area because of the trail system and the natural environment they can enjoy here.  To be sure, the availability of trails has made Northwestern Pennsylvania a travel destination.
            A recent trail utilization study found that 75 percent of trail users cited these trails as their main reason for coming to the area and approximately 160,792 users frequented the trail system throughout the 2006 calendar year, creating an estimated overall economic impact of roughly $4.3 million.  
            As the trail system has grown and connected to other communities, these numbers have only grown showing how such amenities connect people to the outdoors.
            Partners working with the Trails Association include the Allegheny Valley Conservancy.

-- Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Trail and Sign Improvement Project, Pittsburgh: The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s recent improvements through the Trail and Sign Improvement Project are creating safer trails for park users as well as improving water flow within the parks, removing invasive species, and planting native trees.
            Pittsburgh’s trails are some of the most popular amenities in the city parks, but time and urban development took their toll on these assets. Pittsburgh’s urban parks were designed at the turn of the century, before the introduction of asphalt brought about challenging issues for the City’s Department of Public Works maintenance crews.
            The historic parks were also filled with crumbling terracotta drainage pipes dating to the 1930s that began to fail in recent years. These issues changed the path of water flow in the parks, causing multiple problems including trail washouts and pollution from nearby city neighborhoods.
            In 2010, the Parks Conservancy and City of Pittsburgh improved almost six miles of trails throughout the City of Pittsburgh’s four regional parks.  The improvements were part of a $3.8 million project managed by the Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works. 
The project connected broken trail segments, including rebuilding several bridges.
            Significant engineering went into the trail and bridge reconstruction. Trail surfaces were repaired while storm water inlets and drainage pipes were cleaned, repaired or replaced. Public Works crews and Parks Conservancy field staff worked closely with a local contractor to clear fallen, dangerous, and dead trees along the trails that were reconstructed.
                Invasive, non-native trees were removed along with dead and fallen trees.  Native trees and plants were added to the landscapes, improving stormwater absorption.  All of the wood from the downed trees was used to help stabilize the soils on the steep slopes.
            Installation of 100 new signs throughout the four regional parks was also completed as part of the project. In addition to directional signs, new interpretive signs will provide information about park history, wildlife, and restoration projects that have improved the parks.
            In 2009, the Parks Conservancy commissioned a survey of registered voters within the City of Pittsburgh and found that the improvement to park trails and signs was of significant importance.  Approximately 40 percent of voters said that they use the parks for exercise or taking a walk and 53 percent indicated their support of park trail improvements. 
            Although park user experience is of ultimate importance to the Parks Conservancy, the trail improvements will have a long-lasting effect on the parks’ ecological health.  The improvements also decrease maintenance costs for the City of Pittsburgh by decreasing washouts and damage from storm events.

-- Greater Labrobe Senior High School, Latrobe: It’s not unusual to see conservation groups tackle a project to address habitat loss, erosion, and loss of riparian vegetation. It’s a lot less common to see this task being undertaken by a group of senior high school students just learning about the environmental science for the first time.
            The Greater Latrobe Senior High School environmental program does exactly that. 
Teachers at Greater Latrobe saw an opportunity to combine the need to educate students about habitat, ecology, and water pollution with the clear need to protect, preserve, and restore Nine Mile Run, which had been identified as a priority watershed for restoration by the Loyalhanna Creek Watershed Assessment and Restoration Plan.  
            Starting in 2007, teachers coordinated a student-driven conservation project that takes place on Nine Mile Run as it flows through Latrobe Rotary Park in Youngstown, Pennsylvania, close to the senior high school. Nine Mile Run had been plagued by erosion, habitat loss, and lack of riparian vegetation. 
            As a result of this project, a diverse group of 500+ students since 2007 have had the opportunity to experience environment and ecology concepts as they observe fish being caught during biological sampling, identify highly eroded areas, design stabilizing structures, pound rebar to anchor habitat forming structures in place, and select native trees to plant as a stream buffer. With the assistance and support of a strong community partnership, students have thus far restored 2000 feet of stream bank. 
            Not only does this project address environmental and education needs, it addresses a community need.  Rotary Park, once underutilized, today has become the focal point for a growing environmental education program serving Greater Latrobe students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
            In planning the project, it was apparent that an effective experience for students would only occur if they were completely immersed in the process of making a significant change to the stream. To date, 21 log veins, mudsills, and deflectors have been installed along Nine Mile Run where it flows through Rotary Park.
            Prior to any work being done on the stream, a survey found only nine species of fish.  According to results from a September 2010 biological survey, this count has since increased to 22 species, including brown trout, rainbow trout, and small mouth bass that were previously scarce or absent in this stream section.    
            Now in its 4th year, this project has become an integral part of the environmental science curriculum at Greater Latrobe Senior High School.  Since this project began, class enrollment in all environmental programs at has increased from 90 to 140 students.  Previously disengaged, problematic students have a renewed interest in science as a result of this project and the class. 
            Partners for the program include: Westmoreland County Conservation District, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Loyalhanna Watershed Association, Fish and Boat Commission, Rotary Club of Latrobe, McKenna Foundation, McFeely Rogers Foundation, and Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds.

-- DCNR Yellow Creek State Park, Penn RunYellow Creek State Park in Indiana County is one of Pennsylvania’s 118 State Parks and was created to provide opportunities for healthful outdoor recreation as well as to protect our state’s natural resources. 
            Since 1990 environmental education has played a major role in our efforts to increase environmental awareness, particularly among young people.  As issues such as global warming, urban sprawl, habitat loss, and invasive species have come to the forefront in recent years, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources found that there was a need to take the lead in providing park visitors with information that would help them make real change in their lifestyle choices as they try to sift through the wealth of often confusing “green” advertised practices and products currently being marketed.  
            DCNR took a multi-tiered approach that would reach all levels of constituents. Not only did the program provide education and information, but also included actual examples that had real application to those individuals interested in lifestyle changes meant to help the environment. 
            Park officials sought to identify specific items that they could change about their own practices and procedures that would set an example and have application outside the park, and to convince park visitors to make behavioral changes that would result in a much wider impact.    
            They began by installing a 10KW wind turbine in 2007, which produces electricity for the park’s Environmental Education classroom building to show an example of alternate energy.    Installation of a 2 KW solar panel followed in 2010. 
            Changes in our mowing practices by planting native meadows and installing a native wildflower garden in front of the Environmental Learning classroom Building provided an opportunity to show alternatives to mowing, and demonstrate the beauty and effectiveness of landscaping with native species.
            An invasive species control component was added to the park’s resource management program to highlight the danger that invasive species pose to native habitats and wildlife. Use of programmable thermostats, tank-less water heaters, building renovations with window orientation for passive lighting and heating were all implemented in our older buildings.  
            Their goal to effect real change led to a climate survey tool developed by the U.S. National Park Service called Climate Leadership in Parks.  Data related to all aspects of park operations was collected to measure the greenhouse gas emissions and criteria air pollutant emissions generated at the park.  
            Changes implemented in park operations began to show a reduced impact in the CLIP tool almost immediately. The initial goal was to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent within five years.  That goal was accomplished in just three years.
            The success of Yellow Creek State Park’s green initiative has resulted in a mandate that all 118 State Parks in Pennsylvania complete the climate survey by the end of 2011 and reduce their emissions 20 percent within five years. 
            Partners in the Yellow Creek projects include the Indiana County Master Gardeners.

-- Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority, Ebensburg: The Barnes-Watkins Refuse Pile was located in Barr Township, Cambria County and for nearly a century had occupied approximately 18 acres on property owned by the Cambria County 
Conservation and Recreation Authority, just a few short miles from the headwaters of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
            Once mining industry activity ended in the region, this refuse pile was left and little could be done to clean it up or remove it. Over the years, the pile caught fire and smoldered, emitting toxic fumes throughout the valley and adversely affecting public health.
            So much refuse had been dumped along and in the river that it changed the natural course of the river. Estimated at 1,172,000 cubic yards in size, the waste coal was at the same time  potentially useable as a fuel for electricity production in a modern fluidized bed boiler, and  reject material consisting of acidic materials which could not be used as fuel and which should be remediated at a permitted site.  
            With a $4.4 million Growing Greener grant from the Department of Environmental Protection, the CCCRA hired a contractor remove and remediate the coal refuse pile. Over a period of nearly 18 months, more than 320,000 cubic yards were removed, of which 180,000 tons of usable coal waste was shipped to nearby power plants for future use. Refuse that wasn’t suitable for fuel was taken to a permitted site.
            As refuse was removed and burned, the ash was returned to the site, mixed and graded to engineered finish elevations in preparation of a second phase of the project. By mixing the returned ash on the site, the polluting materials were permanently sealed and could no longer pollute the environment.
            In Phase II, an additional 862,000 cubic yards of refuse was removed, more than 778,000 tons of which were shipped for use in a power plant and the remainder sent to a permitted site. Again, the ash was graded on site, and an appropriate conservation grass seed planted and the site revegetated.
            Once completed, a total of 1,183,000 cubic yards of material was removed, 960,000 tons of usuable fuel was shipped for use as fuel for electricity, 18 acres of land were remediated and returned to usable acreage, and the water quality of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River’s first several miles were drastically improved.
            Through this project, a serious environmental problem that once choked the air and rivers with pollution has been transformed into a beautiful recreation area with abundant green space.
            Partners include Robindale Energy Services, Inc.

            The PA Environmental Council wishes to thank the benefactors for the Western PA Environmental Awards Program and awards dinner: Babst Calland, CTC Foundation on behalf of CTC and its affiliates, Dominion Foundation, EQT Corporation, Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, Koppers Inc., Pennoni Associates Inc., Range Resources, United States Steel Corporation, and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
            For tickets, visit the Awards Dinner webpage or call PEC at 412-481-9400 or send email to:


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