ARP Working to put trail development on the fast track

Aspinwall, PA – Aspinwall Riverfront Park (ARP) is working to fast track the expansion of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail along the Allegheny River by securing funding to purchase more than 15 acres of land that runs between Sharpsburg and Aspinwall from neighboring development, Riverfront 47 (R47) to create more than 25 acres of park and trail space on the River. Some of the funds for the purchase could come from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) through Governor Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania fund. Members of DCNR are touring the property on Wednesday, March 13.

 “Since ARP was created eight years ago, our mission has been to be a community treasure and a catalyst for trail expansion,” says ARP Board President Trish Klatt. “This is a huge opportunity, and we’ve learned that when the door is open, and a piece of what could be park and trail becomes available, we should walk through that door and secure it as quickly as possible.  If ARP can secure funding to purchase the land for the trail from Riverfront 47, this will be a new model of how these projects can be created.” For that funding, ARP is working with Foundations, private donors, and it will apply in April for matching funds from Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  

ARP Board member Carole King echoed this sentiment. “Funding from DCNR through Governor Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania fund would be truly game changing and ensure that this vital part of the trail is completed soon,” King adds. To purchase the property, ARP has secured a $1 million grant from the Colcom Foundation, and Riverfront 47 is reducing the purchase price of the acreage from its appraised value.  DCNR’s policy is to match both cash donations and in-kind gifts, making ARP currently eligible to be considered for $2 million in matching funds.  If the DCNR funding is received, an additional $1.5 million must be raised by October 3, 2019 for the purchase to be completed.

It often takes decades for amenities like trails and public spaces to be created. Parks and trails do not generate revenue, and as a result, developers wait until their projects are completed before installing them. Private property owners are also reluctant to allow the public to use property that is under construction because of liability risk. The parks and trails that result from commercial developments often tend to occupy the smallest footprint possible, to maximize the development’s profit generation.  “These types of amenities don’t often feel like public spaces,” says Sarah Tuthill, ARP board member.  “The public can feel like they are intruding on someone’s backyard in order to use them. We want to avoid that happening along this gorgeous stretch of riverfront land.  If we continue to proceed with park and trail building as its always been done, we’ll get the results we have almost always gotten, which is too far too slow.”

ARP founder Susan Crookston adds, “This property has not been accessible to the public for more than eighty years. Our rivers and natural places should be part of every Pittsburgher’s inheritance, and a gift to all of us.  We want this to be a regional asset. With continued community support and matching funds from Pennsylvania, we can secure funding that will build the trail and protect the riverfront as the first priority.”

If the land acquisition is successful, the full 25-acre park will be named Allegheny RiverTrail Park to reflect the fact that it will extend beyond Aspinwall through O’Hara and Sharpsburg.  The ARP acronym will remain the same.  Different sections of the Park will still have the town names in them, so Aspinwall Riverfront Park as it exists today would be called Allegheny RiverTrail Park in Aspinwall.  All of the land in R47 land in Aspinwall would become park.

Trails around the Country have proven to have a positive economic impact on communities they connect to.  A survey conducted by the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy in 2015 said that annually about 800,000 people use the Three Rivers Heritage trail and it has an economic impact of around $8.3 million — $6 million of that is from people buying goods and services right along the trail.

About Aspinwall Riverfront Park

Aspinwall Riverfront Park is an independent 501(c)3 corporation unaffiliated with Aspinwall Borough.  The award-winning ten-acre Park offers many amenities including an artistic Playground sculpture, fishing dock complete with swinging chairs, exercise and music classes, sled riding and skating, theater performances and camps, a quarter mile walking trail, and kayaking through its partnership with Venture Outdoors.  The Park’s native gardens are designed to attract pollinators and animals.  River otter and bald eagles are often seen.