Imagine relaxing along the banks of the Ohio River on your lunch break, enjoying a newly restored area along the North Shore. You’re sitting under a lush tree canopy in the shade. To get there you walked along a path running parallel to a previously underground stream that has now been daylighted. You notice fish swimming near the bank. Clean filtered stormwater is flowing back into the river.

A new study announced by Riverlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may help to make this scenario possible.

The project entails a unique aquatic ecosystem study on the North Shore, and is the first of its kind anywhere in an urban environment. In their partnership with Riverlife, the Army Corps will observe in-river habitats of mussel species and fish as well as the riverfront edges. Their evaluations will help provide insight to solutions to restore a natural river habitat to the currently degraded ecosystem on the North Shore.

The North Shore restoration project will help make further strides in improving connections between destinations that began in the early 2000s. Green public open space, walking trails and boat launches mark existing examples that help weave Heinz Field, PNC Park and the Carnegie Science Center, among other destinations, throughout the North Shore.

Photo courtesy Bridgett K. Winters/Riverlife

Photo courtesy Bridgett K. Winters/Riverlife

“The master plan was really never completed, it really stops at the Carnegie Science Center. And so we have been working for over five years with the United States Army Corps of Engineers in trying to get this project to the phase that it is now,” says Jay Sukemek, Riverlife acting director. “So this has been a long-term project that we’ve been working on and the fact that we’ve gotten to this phase is a very significant stepping stone for the project.”

Sukemek emphasizes the study aspect and how possible solutions or next steps will be unknown until its conclusion. But the future potential in conducting such a study covering roughly 4,000 feet of riverbank and 12 acres into the North Shore community doesn’t escape him, either.

“This is a very unique opportunity and I think that the Corps is interested in pursuing this because it can really be a demonstration project nationwide for how to do ecosystem restoration in an urban environment.”

Along with aquatic species and their habitats, riverside vegetation and riverbank improvements, stormwater and flow patterns will also be studied to find out what’s underground with the possibility of daylighting buried streams. Capturing and effectively filtering stormwater to ensure it’s clean before reentering the river is another emphasis of the study.

“The whole purpose of [they study] is restoration. It kind of comes down to that,” says Ryan Fisher, outreach coordinator with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District. “As far as alternatives, we’ll look at daylighting waterways, improving the quality of the vegetation along the stream banks, creating wetlands or stormwater wetlands.”

Other environmental considerations will include fish spawning habitats and possibly a stop-over habitat for migrating birds.

For the Army Corps, partnering with a group like Riverlife is a first. Past projects have included partnering with counties or an organization with a taxing authority in a local government.

The project is estimated to cost $258,000. Additional support has been provided by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Heinz Endowments and Buhl Foundation.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing where the project area ends up being, where the highest priority area is and how we can bring the riverbank back to a natural habitat in a way that interfaces and really compliments the North Shore activities,” says Sukemek.