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HOLT: Preserving the "Green"

BY CAROLYN MORRISON
 

   Following a day of torrential rainfall, flash flooding, and while in the midst of a sweltering evening threatening more storms, Sean Brady is anxiously leading the way into the forest. With a quick step and scanning eye, he surveys ribbons of clay and mud ahead. Whether the trails that he, along with other members of the Hollow Oak Land Trust, and numerous additional volunteers, have built have held up or not remains uncertain.

   Looping along the Oil Well Trail, which is named after an abandoned well below Hassam Road, Sean stoops and swerves, shucking fallen limbs and logs back into the brush as he pulls back vines beaten down by the rain. In places, water runoff has been diverted from the elevated trail bed, just as Sean designed. It’s a momentary victory, however. Pausing briefly, he marvels at the powerful sound of rushing water farther below. Deeper into the dense vegetation of spicebush and invasive knotweed, water pours across the trail, ankle deep, while other trail arms have completely assumed the role of streambeds.

Sean expresses no anger or disappointment, but rather an energetic mix of awe, even glee, at the power of nature. In light of his goal to guide and channel the natural flow of water away from the carefully crafted, sustainable trails, he admits that the trail building at Meeks Run Greenway area is indeed still a work in progress.

   Nearby, a small yet dramatic waterfall - turbid white caps falling over sandstone - lies just upstream of the confluence of where the two recreationally and ecologically significant streams Montour Run and Meeks Run meet. In the same manner that these streams converge, Sean envisions local green spaces in the Western suburbs overlapping, increasing natural biodiversity as well as enjoyment by outdoor enthusiasts.

   In 2012, Sean Brady became the newest Executive Director of the Hollow Oak Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization that since 1993 has been acquiring and maintaining natural areas in Western Pennsylvania, including areas of Robinson, Moon, and Kennedy.

HOLT: Preserving the "Green"

 
   The aim of the organization is to preserve these areas as high quality habitats for natural plant and animal communities, and utilize them for sustainable recreational activities such as hiking, biking, wildlife watching, and fishing.
 

   Despite the total acquisition to date of over 400 acres of green space, Sean is concerned HOLT has become too “quiet” of an organization, and hopes to entice local residents to utilize and fully appreciate the natural beauty of their own neighborhoods. A long-standing goal of the organization has been the development of a “green corridor” encompassing the perennially popular Montour Trail. This environmentally-sound buffer zone would protect the surrounding woodland habitat from detrimental commercial and housing development while maintaining the scenic pleasure experienced by trail users, along with the ecology of the watershed.

   Hollow Oak’s initiatives, such as the Meeks Run Greenway and Trout Run Greenway, greatly advance this goal, simply with their protected status. Together, these greenways will form a 10-mile loop that utilizes a three-mile section of the Montour Trail.

   Sean wants to see this goal taken a step further. He envisions not only a connected corridor of land trust property alongside the Montour Trail, but a vast network of integrated and contiguous green space that seamlessly connects Hollow Oak’s conservation areas to the resources of Moon Township’s expansive municipal parks: Olson, Robin Hill, and Moon Community.

   Sean emphasizes that land trust purchases or easements often aid municipalities when it comes to stormwater management, while also increasing quality of life and property values without incurring any additional expense from maintaining township parks.

   Long-term community involvement will be the key to the greenway’s success, says Sean, but Hollow Oak has already been getting some help. Numerous volunteers from airport area businesses, such as Eaton Corporation, FedEx Ground, and The Mall at Robinson, have been laboring together under Sean and Hollow Oak Board members Laurie Plummer and Darin Shaffer to create and advance trails at Meeks Run.

On July 20, over a dozen members from the Pittsburgh Trail Advocacy Group (PTAG) joined HOLT members for a major trail advancement and picnic. PTAG is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create and maintain single-track trails abiding by strict International Mountain Bicycling Association standards that minimize environmental impact. Peter Greninger, President of PTAG, adds that “Sean has actually worked with PTAG for years as our volunteer park steward in Riverview Park, which made Hollow Oak Land Trust a great partner for PTAG to explore expanding our efforts into privately owned open spaces designated for public recreational use.” Thanks to regular volunteer participation from these groups, the Oil Well and Hemlock Trails are now completed, tying in with the Meeks Run and Powerline trails for two connected loops.

   Most recently, Robinson Mall volunteers dug a rainwater diversion ditch near the parking area on Hassam Road in Moon Township approximately 100 yards uphill from the Montour Trail. Laurie credits Sean’s “unbridled passion for the outdoors, combined with really spectacular people skills,” for all of the volunteer dedication. Sean’s previous leadership experience also includes working with the Pittsburgh-based environmental and recreational organizations Venture Outdoors and Riverlife.

   In addition to local corporate participants, educational institutions both public and private are investing in the greenway. Frank Todd, Science Department Chair and educator at Moon Area Middle School, will include a “Trout in the Classroom” project this coming school year for eighth grade students sponsored by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The ultimate goal is to raise Pennsylvania’s state fish, the Brook Trout, from eggs to fingerlings, for release in a local PAFBC-approved waterway. Frank is hoping it will either be Montour or Meeks Run. He says that the goal of “Trout in the Classroom” is “to educate young people about cold water conservation” and how to achieve healthy aquatic environments in the state. Frank adds that, “Sean Brady, in particular, has graciously donated a 55 gallon (fish) tank and equipment for us to use in the classroom and will help provide ideas for activities.”

   Sean, who is also an avid fly fisherman, cites a 2012 study led by Duquesne University professor Dr. Brady Porter that shows the related Brown Trout is already reproducing in Meeks Run.

   Austin Jepsky, a member of the Moon High School Cross Country team, has been a regular trail builder at Hassam Road on Wednesday evenings. Austin understands the long-range potential and personal pride of building trails that the team can use for years to come. He is attempting to organize his fellow students to take on this site as their community service project, even after the trails are completed, to help steward and maintain them. Simple tasks, like clearing the trails of fallen hickory or walnuts, will be needed.

He says that while the team currently runs the relatively level Montour Trail, the ten miles of trails at Montour Woods will offer new challenges, such as the steep, cool slopes of the Hemlocks Trail, the stream crossings of Meeks Run Trail, and the ravines along the Powerline Trail.

   Robert Morris University’s campus trail committee, aka “Trail Nuts,” recently sought Sean’s advice on how to enhance the natural wooded areas of their 230-acre campus. Armand Buzzeli, Director of Campus Recreation, says the group met with Sean Brady and Amy Ottaviani, Assistant Executive Director of Moon Township Parks and Recreation, to discuss, “working together to create a community that is connected by trails and designated shared and/or dedicated bike lanes.” They plan to reconvene monthly to explore potential sources of grant funding for the project with Sean, who earned his master’s degree in professional writing at CMU. According to Amy, “Moon Parks is focusing on ways to connect people to nature…there are many exciting opportunities on the horizon”.

   Jessica Mann, Assistant Director of Student Civic Engagement, recruits 20 to 30 students to clean up the campus trail each academic year, and adds that it is a very popular service choice among students. Mann believes the relationship with Hollow Oak will expose students, “to a wonderful resource that is minutes away from them.”

   Back on the Oil Well Trail, Sean stops at what he says was once an impenetrable mud hole, covered by invasive multi-flora rosebushes; until he and fellow volunteers dug it all out by hand. The now small, channeled stream is so crystal clear that Sean can’t resist cupping his hands in it. He says that the rusted remains of an old oilrig, nestled between some nearby hemlock trees, will become an historical exhibit. As he rushes back to the parking area to meet volunteers, a brilliant red fox trots up the rocky slope leading to Hassam Road, gives an attentive glance, and then vanishes .

   In the next five years, Sean anticipates the completion of two other greenways besides Montour Woods. One will connect their Boggs Run Conservation Area with Olsen Park and the Becks Run valley. The other will link the Robert Morris Campus with Robin Hill Park and the Moon Ohio Riverfront Park, which will be built near the Sewickley Bridge. The goal of uninterrupted green space will be achieved by linking green spaces such as farms, golf courses, and bike routes, along the way.

   “By that point, I expect to be working with other municipalities and organizations throughout the airport corridor,” he says, “to extend the network of greenways connecting their communities to nature so that we can all capitalize on perhaps Pittsburgh’s greatest asset: our rich natural heritage of streams, wooded valleys and wildlife.”

   Please visit hollowoak.org to become a member or email Sean at brady@hollowoak.org to explore upcoming volunteer opportunities.

 
 
 

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