This year is not only our 15th anniversary as an organization, but also the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Nine Mile Run Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration project. The $7.7 million restoration began in 2002 and took close to 4 years to complete. On August 17, 2006, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the completion of the project , which was funded and supervised by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the City of Pittsburgh. This ambitious project turned a dangerous eyesore in a formerly isolated section of the park into a well-used regional amenity – an exceptional natural haven in the midst of the city.
The Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, founded in 2001, began outreach and education to the watershed communities prior to the restoration to help residents understand their connection to the stream and provide low cost ways to help improve water quality. During the restoration (2003-2006) we provided dozens of tours to explain the process and intended outcome to the public and to key stakeholders. When it was finished, the presence of NMRWA ensured continued stewardship, monitoring, and advocacy for the stream for years to come.
We celebrated and acknowledged this anniversary throughout the month of October, starting with a volunteer workday to steward the restoration area. 20 volunteers came out to give some TLC to the native plants and trees, remove trash from the stream, and also maintain a gravel trail that the Student Conservation Association built back in 2011. NMR is a public and ecological asset but can only remain a success with the dedication of volunteers. To date, NMRWA has coordinated over 2,200 volunteers who have donated more than 6,500 hours to steward and maintain the stream restoration. This doesn’t even include the countless hours that our Urban EcoStewards independently log, the labor put in by the Department of Public Works (DPW) or Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC)staff OR our work to monitor the stream, advocate for better stormwater policies, or celebrate!
NMRWA also hosted a few walking tours of the restoration area recently. One was a public tour on October 2 of the upper restoration area, exploring the recent history of the stream. At the tour, photographs taken pre-construction, during construction, and directly post-construction were examined and then ultimately compared to the current conditions.
The national Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) of the USACE hosted their annual meeting here in Pittsburgh on October 18 and visited the restoration area as a case study site. The EAB was of course joined by the USASCE Pittsburgh District staff, including the newly appointed Commander, Colonel John Lloyd. Also in the group were two USACE staff members who were a part of the NMR restoration: Lenna Hawkins, now the Deputy District Engineer, was one of the project managers; and Rose Reilly, who was a biologist for the project and also author of various studies on NMR and long-time supporter of our organization.
The EAB was amazed by the ecological success of the restoration primarily due to the collaboration for stewardship between NMRWA, PPC, and DPW foreman, Dick Wilford and his crew. Had these entities not stepped up to the plate, the restoration would surely be in much worse shape. Furthermore, the group was also impressed with our current work to address the source of the stream degradation – reducing excess stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows in the watershed (and overall Pittsburgh region.) Over the past 15 years, we have all progressed to realize that it takes a combination of adaptive tactics to truly restore our natural environments, from planting native fauna and monitoring progress to reworking policy, capturing stormwater with natural processes, and creating healthy community assets. Going forward there is still work to do but this month surely humbled everyone in reflecting on just how far we, and the stream restoration, have come.
To learn more about the history of the restoration or about the monitoring program, check out the articles in our 15th anniversary fall newsletter!