Life goes wherever water flows – Keeping our watersheds healthy

Watersheds play an important part in maintaining healthy biodiversity in our local environment. Watersheds can carry sewage, pesticides and other harmful elements that can damage our ecosystem. What many people may not realize is that we all live in a watershed. Nine Mile Run and Panther Hollow are two examples of area watersheds the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy are working to restore in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh and other area non-profits.

Through the Carnegie Science Center’s “Take a Hike!” program sponsored by The Sprout Fund, our own director of education, Marijke Hecht, shows us what we can do in our own backyard to help keep area watersheds clean and thriving.

For more information on the Nine Mile Run Watershed or Panther Hollow Watershed, visit our website www.pittsburghparks.org. To learn how you can get your own rain barrel to help divert extra water from the sewer systems, visit the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association website at www.ninemilerun.org.

Westinghouse update

The pond as it looks today

The pond as it looks today

Westinghouse Pond is disappointing a lot of brides this summer.

As we first wrote back in March, Schenley Park’s Westinghouse Memorial and Pond has encountered a whole host of problems since a rough winter caused damage to numerous parts of the site.  For a while, the water in the fountain was back up and running thanks to repairs done by the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works, and the site appeared to need some cosmetic improvements, but was still a pretty attractive spot for photos.

But the severe storm that came through Pittsburgh in June flooded the fountain.  After that, it started to leak again and it hasn’t been functional since.  We suspect that the volume of water that went through the pond’s plumbing system was too great for the pipes to handle, and that one of the pipes beneath the basin is broken and causing the leak.  However, we can’t tell for sure until the City’s plumbing contractor can visit the site with a camera that can probe underneath the basin. 

The monument itself looks better than it has in years.

A little good news: thanks to conservation work, the monument itself looks better than it has in years.

If the inspection reveals that the problem IS a broken pipe that can be repaired without digging up the basin, then the issue is relatively minor and could be fixed fairly quickly.  But if the inspection reveals that the pipe isn’t broken, then the basin will have to be dug out in order to figure out what is really causing the pond to empty.  That would be a much more costly and time-consuming project.  So now we wait.

No more graffiti

No more graffiti

There is some good news, though: Westinghouse, whose employees originally funded the creation of the memorial, donated funds that allowed us to undertake conservation of the bronze this June.  This was crucial because delaying the work on the bronze would only have made its problems worse.  Our conservator was able to come in and clean and wax the statue and the monument, restoring their shine and removing many of the stains.  Now “American Youth” no longer has graffiti on his chest, his shoes are polished and shined, and Daniel Chester French’s signature practically pops out at you when you look at the sculpture.  So we are very grateful to Westinghouse for helping us out there! 

Of course, we realize that the monument is only part of the project, and the rest is an eyesore.   There’s grass growing in the pond, and entire chunks of the walkway have come loose and are piling up to the side.  So stay tuned.  I wish we had a better answer and a more solid timeline on the project for you, but we need to do a little more diagnostic work to determine exactly what the costs are going to be.  (Cross your fingers for that broken pipe!)  Then we’ll need to seek out the funding so that next summer’s brides can hopefully go to Westinghouse and find the area even more scenic than they remember!

American Youth gets a shoeshine; photos from March and August 2009

American Youth gets a shoeshine; photos from March and August 2009

Four Unsung Spots #1: Schenley Pool Meadow

We’re starting a new series on the blog today called Four Unsung Spots in the Parks. These are places in our park system that either get a lot less traffic or that people might have overlooked on their regular hiking or biking routes. We’ll do a spotlight on one place in each of the four regional parks over the coming weeks, so check back often!

Coming up with an “unsung” spot in Schenley Park is fairly difficult, because Schenley isn’t really the park you visit when you’re looking for some genuine solitude.  But I thought I’d shine a spotlight on one of the Conservancy’s lesser-known projects of the past few years, a huge patch of wildflowers known as the Schenley Park Pool Meadow.

Before and After: the lawn in 2006; a summer evening in 2008.

Before and After: the lawn in 2006; a summer evening in 2008.

The meadow is pretty much where you’d expect–right past the fence that borders the swimming pool.  Like a lot of our meadow sites, it was previously used as a lawn before the Conservancy created the meadow in 2007.  Here are just a couple of reasons we love meadows as opposed to lawns:

  • Meadows are beautiful to look at and provide visual interest for park users.
  • Meadows increase the park’s overall biodiversity by introducing many different native plant species into the park and providing habitat for insects, birds, and other wildlife.
  • Lupine

  • Meadows require a lot less maintenance than lawns, which require frequent mowing.  Because the plants in meadows are native to Western Pennsylvania, they have adapted to the weather conditions of the area and grow well with little assistance from us.
  • Meadows soak up a lot more storm water, reducing flooding and erosion in the park.  Our rule of thumb is to look at how tall a plant is and estimate a 1:1 relationship between its height above-ground and its depth below-ground.  Imagine how small one blade of grass is compared to a big black-eyed susan.  Now imagine how much deeper the black-eyed susan’s root system is, and therefore how much more water it can soak up.

And this meadow will hopefully eventually have the added benefit of providing a natural cover for the graffiti that’s all over the wall under the Charles Anderson Bridge.

Volunteers Grace and Beth battle the horseweed.

Volunteers Grace and Beth battle the horseweed.

With any new project comes a set of challenges, though, and the pool meadow’s chief menace has been horseweed.  Although it’s native to the U.S. and not as noxious as some of our enemy plants in the forest, it spreads easily via many windborne seeds and thus is not the kind of plant you want competing with your other meadow natives.  With the help of some of our reliable volunteers, we’ve cut the horseweed population lower each year, and hopefully that’s making it easier for the other plants to grow.

And there’s lots of great plants to see: in the springtime, wild lupine sends up purple stalks, and July brings an explosion of bergamot and ox-eye sunflowers that gives way to black-eyed susans in the fall.  Every year I come across something new and unknown and find myself doing image searches when I get home to try and ID the latest mysteries.

The Schenley Park pool officially opens this weekend, so when you’re done taking a dip, stop off by the meadow and take a look.  (In July you won’t be able to miss the show, but its charms are a little more subtle right now!)  Then check out Wildflowers of Western PA for help identifying all the cool flowers you spot in the meadow!