Emerald Trail Corps learning to use safety ropes in Emerald View Park. Courtesy Mt. Washington CDC.

Improving public lands while offering employment at the same time has been a successful venture of Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation’s (MWCDC) Emerald Trail Corps (ETC) since 2011—so successful, in fact, that the project is being spun-off and expanding citywide.

“The MWCDC is in some ways a typical community development corporation. We have a strong economic development program where we do business district support as well as real estate development,” says Ilyssa Manspeizer, current executive director of the MWCDC.

But she says what’s unusual for a CDC is a large park initiative like the 260-acre Emerald View Park. “Part of that is the Emerald Trail Corps, a green job training program where we hire adults who have been having trouble finding or keeping employment.”

The program has a varied mix of participants, from formerly incarcerated people to returning veterans, from people without GEDs to those who are on public assistance. Emerald Trail gives them training in green job skills, like trail construction, or habitat restoration.

“While they’re working in our park building trails and restoring habitats, we work with them so they’re able to find full-time gainful employment with family-sustaining wages in permanent positions,” Manspeizer says.

Beginning in January, Manspeizer will be heading the new citywide organization, which will be supported by a two-year seed grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation and have GTECH Strategies as its fiscal sponsor.

“We’re working with a group of partners to see if the model we’ve created with the MWCDC could be expanded across the city to have the same kind of success that we’ve had, both with stewarding the park and land as well as addressing some deep-seated challenges that individuals face finding and keeping jobs,” Manspeizer says.

In addition to GTECH, the partners include Allegheny Land Trust, PGH Works and The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

The Emerald Trail Corps is a MWCDC program, so the spin-off program will have a different name. The working title is the Pittsburgh Conservation Corps, but Manspeizer says they’ll go through a branding campaign to hone in on the new program’s identity.

In addition to a new name and much broader footprint, the new organization will also seek new kinds of contracts so employment can be offered throughout the year, as opposed to the six months per year it’s currently able to offer. 

Manspeizer says she’s eager to see the impact that a citywide, and possibly someday county-wide, version of the Emerald Trail Corps can have. “It’s exciting for the MWCDC that one of its programs has achieved this recognition. Now it’s important for us that we do what we can to promote it and keep it moving.”

'Burgh-loving Jonathan Wander (Twitter: @jmwander) has written for various publications including Men’s Health, and has gratefully guest-posted on amazing sites like That’s Church.