PG: River Rocks Event to Raise Funds for Aspinwall Park

River Rocks event to raise funds for Aspinwall park

The folks behind the Aspinwall Riverfront Park are on the fast track to finish the first part of the park by the end of the year.

“We want the kids who are raising money and selling the lemonade for this part to be able to enjoy it,” said Susan Crookson, executive director of Allegheny Development Partners. Ms. Crookson is overseeing the development of the park.

The 10-acre park is at the site of the former Aspinwall Marina.

Since the beginning of the project in 2010, hundreds of volunteers have worked hard to move it forward, including the children who have assisted by raising money, Ms. Crookson said.

One of the major fundraisers, the annual River Rocks party, will be Friday at the Fox Chapel Golf Club. Event co-chair Sarah Tuthill said the organization hopes to raise $100,000 there.

“We have raised over $155,000 in the last two years thanks to all of the support of the community and our sponsors,” she said.

Ms. Tuthill said this year’s theme is the Roaring ’20s to tie into the release of the popular film, “The Great Gatsby.”

A mother of two young girls, Ms. Tuthill said she works on the fundraising efforts to make the park a reality sooner rather than later.

“I want this park to be open for them to enjoy it as children,” she said of her daughters, Lydia, 9, and Edie, 5. “So often these parks take 10 years or more to happen, and we don’t want that to be our case.”

The riverfront park began when Ms. Crookson, who lives in Aspinwall with her husband, Currie, and three children, Diana, 12, John, 11, and Elizabeth, 9, had been working on the Community Trails Initiative. As she worked on that project, she started thinking about the land near the marina in Aspinwall.

“I just thought it would be an ideal park. We focus so much on our rivers in Pittsburgh and this seemed like a natural,” she said.

As she began to share her dream, others jumped on board.

“A series of miracles is how this all happened,” said Ms. Crookson, explaining how the organization was able to obtain the property by October 2011.

“We raised $2.3 million in six months and 60 percent of that came from the community,” she said. To date, the group has raised nearly $4 million. The money will be used to design and create the park, improve the marina and park entrance.

Fundraising has been a “grass-roots effort,” said Ms. Crookson, and has involved various types of sales, events and parties hosted by community efforts.

Ms. Crookson said children raised more than $14,000. One of the more ambitious projects was by 15-year-old Ian Gillespie who sold T-shirts and raised $10,000 with the assistance of matching donations and grants from the Hillman Foundation.

While Ian lived in Aspinwall at the time of his fundraiser, he now lives a short drive away in O’Hara.

“This park isn’t just for the people that live in Aspinwall,” he said. “It benefits everyone.”

Like others in the community, Ian appreciates the fact that the park is on the river.

“I love the water — I’ve been around the water my whole life. It will be a great place to put in my kayak and hopefully ride my bike from there all the way into Pittsburgh,” he said.

The group recently unveiled the master plan for the park created by Environmental Planning & Design LLC of Pittsburgh. An unusual aspect of the plan is the for-profit aspect. The marina will be fully operational with more than 100 slips, and proceeds will benefit the park construction.

“This is a model project that other parks can use,” Ms. Crookson said.

The organization also just received a $350,000 matching grant from an anonymous source.

Donations of $5,000 or more will be matched up to $350,000, including money raised from The River Rocks.

Already, more than 100,000 pounds of materials were removed from the site by volunteers, including materials from the previous marina owner’s house, which has been dismantled.

The group also has renovated two buildings and worked on other landscaping projects.

The finished park will have 1.3 miles of trails, river accessibility for families, barges that will serve as a floating play area, wetlands, woods and fields for wildlife observation and picnicking areas.

Ms. Crookson said the eastern end of the park will host the barges and areas for picnics while the western end will be the more natural area.

“We already have seen the bald eagles from the area, river otters and beavers,” Ms. Crookson said, “We can’t wait to see what else comes.”