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In a world which is experiencing the rapid spread of humanity on a larger scale than ever before, a question must be asked: What will happen to our green space, and the living beings within it? We have seen in the past that the successful co-existence of humanity and the natural world is akin to crossing an ancient bridge, our fast-paced lives and even faster machines threatening to fall through the cracked planks into the shallow riverbed of mutually assured destruction below.
In the Pittsburgh Airport Corridor however, a group of dedicated individuals have made it clear that they intend to create an environment in which all living things, from human to plant, can flourish. Peacefully protecting the natural world of Pennsylvanian flora and fauna, the Hollow Oak Land Trust is committed to building a working relationship between man and the wild.
A Quarter Century of Success
“We protect and connect green space. That’s our mission, with an emphasis on the Pittsburgh Airport Corridor” says Sean Brady, Executive Director of the Hollow Oak Land Trust. In its twenty seven years of being a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the green space of the Pittsburgh area, HOLT has protected over 640 acres of conservation land, not only in the Pittsburgh Airport Corridor, but in Franklin Park, Kennedy, Moon, Hopewell and North Fayette as well.
The organization has done so well in fact, that it assisted in the development of the Montour Run Watershed Association which in turn prompted the creation of the Montour Trail. More recently, HOLT managed to merge three small conservation areas into one huge two hundred and sixty acre conservation area which would go on to be known as the Montour Woods Conservation Area.
Inclusive and Ingenious: The Hollow Oak Mindset
Hollow Oak Land Trust is of a different mindset than a traditional nature conservancy group. Many organizations of yesteryear would fight tooth and nail to keep nature separate from humanity in an effort to best preserve the wilderness for future generations. HOLT, however, makes a point of readily promoting the development of trails, parks and other conservation-related endeavors within a stone’s throw of the city of Pittsburgh.
“It’s an interesting area that is experiencing rapid development” says Brady, of the Airport Corridor area. “What ends up happening is that when people live and work in an area like that, they also want opportunities to get outdoors. People here want to go for a hike, or ride a mountain bike on a trail, or take their dog for a walk.
So conservation areas that are owned by Hollow Oak provide really great compliments to all the economic development that’s going on in the Pittsburgh area.” In fact, the organization is in the midst of organizing an interconnected system of greenways within the Pittsburgh Airport Corridor which, when finished, will unify most of the trails, conservation areas and municipal parks in the area.
A trail loop over 10 miles in length, this ambitious project aims to close the gaps between the Moon Township Park, the Montour Trail system and the Montour Woods Conservation Area. If the trail loop sees completion, it will link Montour Woods Conservation Area to the brand-new conservation area located along the Trout Run conservation area.
Green Bills to Greenspace
“I’d like to point out that greenspace preservation actually serves as a catalyst for economic development” says Brady. “The folks who come along with residential development like businesses, corporations and the residents themselves, all they want most is somewhere to go outside.” The idea that nature and humanity can co-exist, not just in a delicate balance but in a mutually beneficial partnership, is HOLT’s primary objective as it works on constructing a greenway that will one day connect the better part of the area as one.
Greenways have been proven to not only improve water, air and quality of wildlife, but are also incredibly useful in boosting the economy wherein they are located. A study conducted in 2010 by Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh says that the development of a greenway in the Pittsburgh Airport Corridor can increase property value up to forty thousand dollars if it is within two thousand feet of the greenway.
In addition, the greenway will save thousands of dollars for municipal governments wherein stormwater control is concerned, with the abundance of trees, flowers and shrubs absorbing excess water that would otherwise damage buildings. “It’s really fun and satisfying to protect this greenspace, to see all of this thriving wildlife, better water quality, healthier species of animals, but also at the same time see how people embrace it.”
Nature’s Therapy, Free of Charge
“Our specialty as a land trust is trails. Sustainable, multi-use trails. It’s a really strong way to get people outside and experiencing nature” speaks Brady. “It’s not just something you see on TV, but something you can do before or after work, something you can really come to understand and enjoy. Some people don’t consider themselves to be environmentalists, but what I find is that as soon as they get outside and have a positive experience, their minds start to open up.
Getting people outdoors accomplishes so many things, such as good physical health, and mental health too.” To certain individuals who may be struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses such as ADHD, the act of being outside and interacting with greenspace on their own terms may serve as a way to help lessen the effects of their particular condition.
According to Brady, “Doctors are starting to prescribe time outdoors to children who have disorders relating to hyperactivity or depression. So going for a walk in the woods, or taking a bike-ride for an hour, it really goes a long way toward a better quality of life.”
An Explorer’s Guide to Hollow Oak Land Trust
The organization, as stated previously, is in possession of a number of conservation areas and land easements which are spread throughout the Pittsburgh Airport Corridor. With continued maintenance and protection at the hands of volunteers and community members, these greenspaces serve to better the overall living conditions of the community at large.
A short description of each conservation area follows below:
Montour Woods Conservation Area: Located in the Moon Township area, this massive, 300 acre conservation area is actually an amalgamation of three smaller conservation areas which are still in possession of their individual trail heads. The Frank A. Santucci Trailhead, the Montour Woods Trailhead and the Meeks Run Trailhead all make up the larger conservation area. While motorized vehicles are banned from the area, this greenspace can be freely explored on foot or via bike.
Boggs Run Conservation Area: Acquired by the conservancy as a donation in 1995, this greenspace is sixty acres of wetland habitat, home to a variety of flora and fauna. Formerly used for farmland, the area is now virtually untouched by man-made developments, allowing for the increased abundance of natural and animal built formations, such as beaver dams.
Fifer’s Fields Conservation Area: Another former farmland property, the conservation area was a donation made to HOLT by the Fifer family in 1998. It sports expansive fields with large populations of migratory birds stopping to nest there in the spring and summer. The conservation is also a popular destination for horseback riding and foxhunting, as part of an agreement with the nearby Sewickley Hunt Club.
Kenmawr Conservation Area: Known for its heavy wooded areas, this conservation area was donated to the Hollow Oak Land Trust in 1998. It is over sixty acres in size, boasting a large hilltop with an incredibly impressive few of the surrounding area. Many smaller trails are present throughout this conservation land.
Trout Run Conservation Area: 88 acres donated by CJ Betters in 2017 to serve as a second capstone for the Montour Woods Greenway.
Forestbrooke Conservation Area: While it is only seven acres of property, the Forestbrooke Conservation Area is teeming with life. Birds, insects, and aquatic animals flourish in the flood-plains within this conservation area, donated by a land developer in 2006.
More information on the land easements, and other details regarding the conservation areas, can be found at http://hollowoak.org/conservation.html
The Hollow Oak Land Trust is located at Robin Hill Park, 949 Thorn Run Road, Moon Township, PA 15108. The organization can be contacted via telephone at 412-264-5354, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org