Allegheny Land Trust finalizes purchase of Girty's Woods in Reserve, shielding 155-acre forest from development

Tawnya Panizzi, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·4 min read

Apr. 8—A 155-acre tract of land in Reserve will be protected from development and preserved as natural habitat thanks to a robust capital campaign that raised more than $700,000.

Allegheny Land Trust (ALT) announced March 30 that the purchase of Girty's Woods, a rare forest in an urban setting, was complete.

"The community effort behind protecting this green space was inspiring and instrumental in our success," ALT President and CEO Christopher Beichner said.

More than 100,000 people live within three miles of the property that slopes down from Reserve past the southern tip of Shaler to the densely populated streets of Millvale.

The biodiverse property is expected to provide natural recreation along a network of trails that stretch past overlooks, fields and wetlands, some with eye-popping views of the Pittsburgh skyline.

Shielded from development, the land will absorb millions of gallons of rain water that would otherwise overwhelm Girty's Run Watershed, project leaders said.

That the fundraising campaign was launched at the start of the covid-19 pandemic left Beichner and others concerned about the fate of the project but the community rallied with a necessary startup of $40,000.

By the campaign's end, about 650 residents donated more than $88,000, and the project received funding from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, the Triboro Ecodistrict, Malone Foundation, Posner Foundation and Millvale, in addition to other local businesses.

"The campaign was all heart," Triboro Ecodistrict Director Brian Wolovich said. "At a time when so many are struggling, neighbors of all ages and backgrounds worked tirelessly and together to save our woods."

That includes buy-in from some of the area's youngest residents.

Students in Abbey Nilson's science class at Shaler Area High School jumped on board from the start.

They've been growing trees from seed and plan to replace some of those cut down from a former logging lease. They also started a GoFundMe account which surpassed the group's initial $8,000 goal after students sought support from local businesses and community groups.

"We have trees growing throughout our classroom and in students' homes," Nilson said. "Our White Oaks, Burr Oaks and Kentucky Coffee Trees are growing up tall and strong. Our Black Birch trees have sprouted and will be transplanted once they get a little larger."

Nilson met with ALT leaders to scout locations for the new trees, and students will work at the site on April 20 to transplant them. Volunteers also plan a cleanup April 24 to celebrate Earth Day, which falls on April 22.

"My favorite part of our "Save Girty's Woods" project is not only are we helping the Earth, but we're helping our neighbors, classmates and peers," student Izzy Harker said.

"The area helps absorb the water that goes into Millville so without Girty's Woods, the floods would be horrible."

Classmate Sarenna Walker said the effort to save the land had a positive ripple effect on the entire community.

"I'm looking forward to what Girty's Woods will have to offer to us in the future," Walker said.

Project leaders said the permanent protection of Girty's Woods will preserve natural scenic beauty, provide close-to-home outdoor recreation and environmental education opportunities, protect wildlife habitat, maintain and improve air and water quality, and increase neighboring property values.

The area has been explored and cared for by neighbors for years.

A three-mile network of informal trails winds through the forest, and the site sits just about a half-mile from a link to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. It is easily accessed by people from O'Hara, Sharpsburg, Etna and beyond.

Shaler Area student Kylie Brooks said raising awareness of the property and its impact was the coolest part of fundraising for it.

"It was amazing to see how much my family, teachers and friends became excited about it the more we worked on the project," Brooks said. "Many of them ended up visiting Girty's Woods, sharing posts and donating."

ALT plans to address stewardship needs on the land in coming months. To learn more about how to volunteer, visit alleghenylandtrust.org.

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter .