Image courtesy of Friends of the Riverfront.

Want our riverfront to be cleaner and more beautiful?

Pittsburgh neighborhoods have the chance to get more involved with their local riverfront trails through a new partnership between Friends of the Riverfront and ALCOSAN.

ALCOSAN, Allegheny County’s sanitation authority, will sponsor Riverfronts Naturally, a program created by Friends of the Riverfront to boost volunteer efforts focused on cleaning and beautifying riverfront areas.

“Formerly, we had a stewardship director on staff and his job was to go out and do a significant amount of work on the trails, and that just isn’t a sustainable model for us anymore,” says Valerie Beichner, executive director of Friends of the Riverfront.

Instead, they’re vying for what Beichner calls a “friends of the Friends” model, where residents would volunteer on an ongoing monthly or quarterly basis to help maintain trail sections within their neighborhoods. They plan to recruit volunteer stewards who would scan trails and report on any dangers or health hazards they see.

Friends of the Riverfront would train the volunteers and provide them with any resources they may need, including tools, mulch and vegetation for planting.

Friends of the Riverfront currently helps to maintain the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, a 24-mile network of trails along the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. They coordinate upwards of 1,500 volunteers for various cleanup efforts, including picking up litter, spreading mulch, planting flowers and trees, and removing invasive species.

The Riverfronts Naturally program takes that work further, serving as part of a 12-18 month plan by Friends of the Riverfront to empower local communities.

“The goal is not to put the responsibility on a neighborhood,” says Beichner. “The goal is to engage the neighborhoods so that they participate with this amenity and really see the value and feel ownership over their trail because that is how we end up with a sustainable trail network that everyone loves, enjoys and pitches in.”

The program comes at a time when Friends of the Riverfront has its hands full with the planned 26-mile addition to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Running from Millvale, where the trail currently ends, to the borough of Freeport in Armstrong County, the expansion would serve as a major connector for the Pittsburgh to Erie Trail.

In 2017, Friends of the Riverfront hired their first director of trail development for that Allegheny Valley corridor who, Beichner says, is actively working with 17 municipalities to help lift and construct the new stretch of trail.

The partnership with ALCOSAN is a natural one for the organization. “We are akin organizations and we share a mission to have clean waterways and riverfronts for this region,” Beichner says. “It is so important that we help to maintain this space for future generations.”

Interested in becoming a volunteer?

“We never have too many volunteers,” says Beichner. “We are always looking for more hands along the trail because the more that we can do, the stronger communities we are building.”

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.