By Juliet Martinez
The Hazelwood Greenway restoration will be one of 12 partnerships showcased in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 10 in the Climate Challenge Cup. The city of Pittsburgh, Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., [HI] and Greenway stewardship volunteers have been collaborating to make the 183-acre urban forest cleaner, more stable and more accessible.
The Climate Challenge Cup is a new competition celebrating partnerships that combat climate change in the United States and United Kingdom. The award ceremony will be part of the United Nations 2021 Climate Change Conference, COP26.
The competition categories are “achieving net zero” and “climate change adaptation.” The Hazelwood Greenway project, a pilot for the city’s Greenway Stewardship Program, belongs to the second category.
A $50,000 grant to the Hazelwood partnership from the Trust for Public Lands in February enabled trail clearing and maintenance work by Landforce, a workforce development program. A separate grant from city councilman Corey O’Connor’s office allowed HI to bring goats from Allegheny Goatscape to remove invasive vines and Japanese knotweed. Tree plantings to improve forest biodiversity and prevent regrowth of the invasives is scheduled for early November.
All these resources have converged on Hazelwood thanks to the efforts of residents and support of local government officials.
“The residents of Hazelwood have put their back and hearts into this,” said Sonya Tilghman, HI Executive Director. “From our board members and neighborhood volunteers, to Tiffany Taulton, our director of community initiatives, who also lives here, this pilot project really springs from the skill, talent and dedication of Hazelwood.”
The systems this pilot is developing will help address a problem that affects many Pittsburghers: landslides. The particularly rainy 2018 caused landslides that resulted in millions of dollars in damages and required the city to more than double its disaster response budget for the following year. With more frequent and severe storms expected in the future, the State Auditor General published a report that concluded that “every $1 spent on natural disaster mitigation saves $6 in recovery costs.”
Gavin White is a Hazelwood resident and HI board member. He has been active in the Hazelwood Greenway restoration since around 2016. He said the problems of soil erosion and landslides affect the whole Greenway system. Although more severe in some places, the Hazelwood template will be effective in more landslide-prone areas.
“The idea with bringing these goats in, with bringing Landforce in, who have trail building experience, was to pilot a system whereby the city could partner with communities, bring these technical resources to help improve the trails and improve the habitat in the Greenways, which ultimately prevents landslides,” Mr. White said.
Hillside stabilization can be achieved with costly retaining walls, but Mr. White said clearing invasive species and planting trees also lessens the effects of climate change and preserves wildlife habitat while creating jobs and promoting local small businesses.
“You can use goats and people and make jobs, and put a sort of soft touch on the landscape,” he said, “while also doing the important resilience work.”
Tiffany Taulton has organized volunteer cleanup days in the Greenway, led hikes, and brought children from the neighborhood to have a rare close encounter with the visiting goats.
“We don’t have our own city nature park in Hazelwood, so the Greenway is all this neighborhood has for a place to hike and be in nature,” Ms. Taulton said. “But having healthy green space is also important because we have a high rate of asthma in the community, so we need those trees to clean the air and reduce the heat in the summer.” She explained that neighborhoods with ample green space can be significantly cooler in the summer than those without it.
Ms. Taulton, who also teaches environmental justice at Duquesne University, said communities of color often have less green space.
“The heat, the air quality, mental health, even how much time people want to spend exercising or shopping in their own neighborhood can be affected by the quality of our tree canopy,” she said.