By Ashley Kolumban
Faith Nicholas found half of a torn up novel in a section of South Side Park while picking up litter on Earth Day.
While cleaning up the Hazelwood Greenway, Tyler McLaughlin and his fellow group members uncovered a few abandoned cars.
Because car tires were always being dumped in the Elizabeth Street parklet, Alexandria Grant had plans to upcycle them in that same space.
Nicholas and McLaughlin both worked for the Student Conservation Association (SCA) on a couple of the projects it hosted in 2015. The organization connects student workers to environmental clean-ups in attempts to preserve some of the well-known areas in Pittsburgh.
“Our work [is] a testament to what hard work and perseverance can amount to,” McLaughlin said.
The SCA’s mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders and to get young people involved early on in hands-on service to the land. The Community Program is split into two seasons, school year programs that run October-May, and summer programs take place May-August. The group organizes clean-up days for Earth Day, MLK Day of Service as well as restoring habitats, building trails while teaching team building exercises.
Nicholas is an SCA sustainability fellow with the Higher Education Climate Consortium, which is a coalition of 11 Pittsburgh-area schools that are committed to resource-sharing and collaborative events. The goal is to set an example of leadership for the care of the environment.
The main focus for the SCA for Earth Day 2015 was the clean-up of South Side Park.
“We found some interesting things. On one side of the park, we found a book with its cover ripped off. And when we met up with other fellows from the other side of the park, they had found the cover,” Nicholas said.
She found it rewarding to meet up with community members that were also helping to get rid of the “junk that had been sitting in that valley for probably ten years.”
According to the SCA’s program manager, Miriam Parson, 65 bags of trash was cleared from South Side Park that day, as well as 20 trees of invasive vines.
“The SCA in partnership with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy was able to engage approximately 60 volunteers in addition to our 20 high school crew members for a day of hands-on conservation work in South Side Park,” Parson said.
Carol Pan, a SCA Green Cities Fellow, also took part by removing invasive garlic mustard plants as well as ridding the space of litter.
“[Some] of the items we found included leftover food packaging such as soup cans, wrappers, and bottles,” Pan said.
During the summer of 2015, the SCA sent a group out to clear lots for Kaboom playground, Hazelwood Greenway and the Sylvan Trail. And according to McLaughlin, they “cleared more land than I could have imagined.”
While working and exploring, McLaughlin and his group would come across odd items and refer to them as “hidden treasures.”
“We often would come across the abandoned cars while hiking to our project location, Tuesdays being the day for our work on the Hazelwood Greenway,” McLaughlin said.
Although the SCA group was not responsible for removing the some 50-year-old cars from the area, they would converse about them and wonder who they once belonged to and how they ended up there.
McLaughlin grew up in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, and seeing rusty abandoned cars wasn’t something unusual for him.
“My grandfather would tell me the story that back in the day, more appropriately the 1930s and 40s, people used to drive their cars to the end of their property line, at the time multiple, if not hundreds of acres, and leave cars there to later decay into the ground,” McLaughlin said.
He said that many of the cars were made of mostly steel and chrome, which allowed the cars “to age gracefully in what was then someone’s backyard, and now what we call our parks.”
“The SCA along with the Hazelwood Play Trail allowed for an engaging learning experience for the youth of the historic Hazelwood neighborhood, as well as laid the foundation for a new generation of youth activity and education within,” McLaughlin said.
One of the lots that were cleared in 2015 as part of the Hazelwood Play Trail initiative was the Elizabeth street parklet.
Alexandria Grant, a Play Advocate at Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) and the Hazelwood Play Trail Coordinator, said that while plans for the lot don’t include all recycled materials, they’re still recycling the lot for better use.
“Originally, we thought about creating trees out of recycled tires, however, after talking with the community, we decided to change our plan and plant real trees,” Grant said.
Jen Gallagher, the Principal for Studio for Spatial Practice, who is partnered in this project, said that the PAEYC is working on ways to make this lot a reality.
“The PAEYC is currently working on fundraising efforts while we are aiding them to find partners that can help with work on the site: tree donations, site demolition and earth moving,” Gallagher said.
The idea to use tires to create trees in the lot stemmed from the community’s concern of the mass quantities of tires being tossed in illegal dump sites.
“We wanted to use a material that was seen as a ‘problem’ in the community and recycle it into something useful, beautiful and playful for the community,” Grant said.