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Nine Mile Run blog

04
Feb

Hello! My name is John, and I am a junior environmental science student at the University of Pittsburgh. This past semester, I have been working on an interactive display of the restoration project which reconfigured Nine Mile Run and parts of Frick Park.

I wanted to get involved with Nine Mile Run Watershed Association (NMRWA) because I was inspired by how dedicated and passionate this group is about improving urban water quality. This organization seems to me like part of a greater recommitment by people around Pittsburgh towards restoring our city’s natural beauty.

Conservation has always been important to me, and being an Eastern PA native I grew up enjoying preserved land areas like Stroud Preserve. When I started going to school in Pittsburgh, Frick Park quickly became one of my favorite local spots for mountain biking. Since then I’ve rode over and next to Nine Mile Run countless times, enjoying this oasis of nature in the urban setting.

Clean water has been an interest of mine ever since I moved to Pittsburgh and learned of the challenges urban streams are facing. Also, this past summer I spent much of my time wading in streams while interning for the PA Department of Environmental Protection. These previous experiences blended perfectly in my work with NMRWA, where I could help display innovative solutions to issues of urban stream health.

Using ArcGIS, and past reports on the restoration project, I created maps displaying impervious cover, culvert systems, stream channel reconfiguration, and wetland creation and modification. Along with my maps, the display includes historical photos of the creation of Pittsburgh’s sewer systems from over 85 years ago!

I am grateful to have learned so much about the restoration project in Nine Mile Run, and to be able to learn from leaders in sustainable development. One important takeaway from my experience is that stewardship is never over, and I look forward to continuing to be a part of keeping Nine Mile Run healthy and beautiful!

My ArcGIS story map will be up on the Nine Mile Run website sometime soon, so be on the lookout!

25
Jan
Google Street View

When Google Street View was released just over a decade ago many of us likely took a peek at our homes, forgot about it, and have used it maybe a handful of times since. Today some might use it to confirm an address before punching it into their GPS, but it’s also an interesting and useful tool for our work in the watershed, particularly urban forestry. Over the last 10+ years, Google has re-photographed numerous streets, creating a photographic timeline. The timeline allows us to go back and see how current conditions compare with conditions from a decade ago.

Our Process

One of the interesting things we’ve been exploring is the growth of trees we planted or helped plant in the watershed, over the course of the last 15 years. With the timeline, we can go back to a series of dates and screen capture the view from that year. When we compile these individual images into animated GIFs it provides a moving timeline of that location. These GIFs not only show the difference between planting and today but also how the tree and surrounding area have evolved. Not only do the trees grow, but the amount of shade produced, or the number of cars parked nearby has changed as well, showing some of the benefits of trees. There’s nothing scientific about this process, and it’s something you can easily do at home.

Rowland Connector – Hybrid Elms (Planted 2005)

Rowland Connector 2005 – 2017

Wallace Ave. – Red Maple (Planted 2008)

Wallace St. 2007 – 2017

Biddle Ave. – Japanese Zelkova (Planted 2011)

Biddle 2007 – 2017

Center St. – American Elm (Planted 2011)
Urban Forestry

Center Street 2011-2016

Also useful in the stream – Nine Mile Run  from Commercial Ave (2007-2016)
Nine Mile Run

Nine Mile Run (2007-2016)

And one of our Green Stormwater Infrastructure sites – Oakwood-Batavia (2012-2017)

Oakwood Batavia (2012-2017)

Urban Forestry Takeaway

These timelines show just how quickly trees can begin to provide significant benefits, as long as they are getting some care and attention. Planting a tree now isn’t just an investment for future generations, it’s an investment that will begin to show benefits in the near future.

 

If you’re interested in planting a tree in your yard, contact us about the Citizen Tree Project.

If you’d like to plant a street tree, contact Urban Forestry Coordinator, Jan Raether, about TreeVitalize grants.

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Jan
17
Dec

Winter is a wonderful time to take a walk in the park. The air is crisp, and it’s easy to see and enjoy the wildlife that abounds.

While we can put on coats and mittens to keep cozy on our winter wonderland adventures, have you ever wondered how our feathered friends keep warm during this chilly time of year?

 

Birds, like us (assuming that the entity reading this is human), are warm-blooded and have an average body temperature of around 106 degrees Fahrenheit.  This means that when the temperature drops, they need to fly to a warmer locale or adapt to the changing conditions.

Birds are remarkable creatures and possess a number of ways to stay toasty:

  1. Insulation: Like other animals, birds eat, eat, eat in preparation for the cooler months, packing on the pounds (or in this case, partial ounces) to create a layer of fat to help keep them warm.  They have to be careful, though.  If they get too heavy, they aren’t able to fly and can become an easy meal.   Birds also insulate themselves by puffing up their feathers; it’s like they are wearing their very own down comforters!
  2. Lifestyle: Many birds seek shelter in nooks and crannies in trees and rocks or do their best to find a cozy spot in dense foliage.  They also hang around other birds to share body heat when the temperature drops.
  3. Physiological changes: Some birds enter a state called torpor in which they slow down their heart, metabolic, and respiratory rates to conserve energy. However, this can make them vulnerable to predators, so most bird species do not enter torpor unless in dire circumstances. You can learn more about it here.  Amazingly, some birds can even alter their blood flow so that it circulates around important organs, but doesn’t go to their extremities.  How nifty is that?

 

 

While birds are pretty talented at maintaining their body temperature in the winter, they could still use a little help from their human friends. Here’s a few ways you can contribute to avian well-being and create a better winter habitat:

  • Put up some roost boxes. While traditional birdhouses provide some shelter from the cold, they are not ideal for winter habitation. They do not provide perching surfaces, and are often too small to accommodate more than a couple birds. Roosting boxes are more spacious, offer wooden dowels or roughened indoor surfaces, and have lowered entrance holes to prevent heat loss.  You can learn more about roost boxes and find a plan for building one here.
  • Provide some nutritional supplementation. When it comes to finding sustenance, winter is a challenging time for birds.  Insects are dormant, most of the vegetation is gone, and heavy snow makes life even harder.  Setting up just one or two bird feeders will make their lives a lot easier, and bring a variety of wildlife to your backyard for you to watch and appreciate. It can be difficult to decide what type of feeders to install, what to serve, and where to locate them. Luckily, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has created a great guide to get you started.  You can find it here.
  • If you want to go the extra mile, you can also plant evergreen shrubs to help provide a little herbaceous cover for our feathered friends. I’m sure they would appreciate it!

We hope you will find a way to contribute to a positive habitat for birds this winter to help our little friends thrive, and maybe get in some exciting bird watching along the way!

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06
Aug

Now is a fantastic time to visit Nine Mile Run! We’ve been getting a few general safety questions from the public, and have a few things to keep in mind during your visit.

  1. While it’s tempting to let your kids splash around or let your dogs take a drink in the stream during a hot day, the water is not safe.

Due to our region’s combined sewer system, as little as 1/10th of an inch of rain causes sewage-contained stormwater to enter Nine Mile Run, in addition to other streams and rivers. NMRWA is doing our part by installing green stormwater infrastructure around the watershed to hold back some of the stormwater and keep it from overflowing, but there is more to be done. Stay safe, and keep yourself and your pets out of the stream, especially after it rains.

 

  1. Be sure to leash your dogs.

Not only is it an Allegheny County ordinance, but it is also a great way to protect the wildlife that call the Nine Mile Run ecosystem home.

Off leash dogs attack the possums, foxes, and raccoons that live in the forest; which is unsafe for both the wildlife and your pet. Off leash dogs wandering off of the trail are also detrimental to the plant restoration that our Urban Ecostewards are working so hard to foster.

 

  1. Be mindful of harmful plants that are native to the restoration area.

Poison Ivy

 

Poison Ivy is prevalent throughout the restoration area. Oils from their distinctive “leaves of three” can cause an itchy rash and blisters. Pets can also carry oils from poison ivy on their fur and pass it along to unsuspecting humans, which is another reason to keep dogs leashed and be aware of the plants around them.

 

Cow Parsnip

Cow Parsnip stems and leaves contain furocoumarins, a photosensitive chemical that causes rashes and blisters after exposure to ultraviolet light. Cow parsnip can grow up to 7 feet tall with rounded white flower clusters like an Alice in Wonderland Queen Anne’s lace.

 

  1. Watch out for ticks.

Pennsylvania has the unfortunate distinction of having the most cases of tick-borne disease of any state in the country, according to the CDC. In 2016 11,000 of the 36,500 reported Lyme disease cases nationwide were in Pennsylvania.

Here are several steps that you can take to make it less likely that you will be bitten by a tick while hiking this summer:

Stay on the trail when hiking through the park. Ticks are more prevalent off trail in Frick Park.  Frick Park is vastly overpopulated with deer, and the deer tick carries Lyme disease.

To prevent ticks from attaching to you wear long sleeved shirts and log pants, tuck the bottom of your pants into your boots, and apply repellants with DEET.

Check your body and clothes for ticks after returning home from your hike. Shower promptly after being in an area where ticks are prevalent.

Be aware of the symptoms of Lyme disease, and seek medical attention if they occur. According to the CDC early signs include fever, headaches, fatigue. Muscle and joint aches. A rash occurs in 70 percent of infected persons that expands gradually to be up to 12 inches across, and sometimes resembles a bull’s eye.

 

  1. Stay safe by the stream.

 

Nine Mile Run stream is beautiful. If a downpour starts, you may be tempted to stay near the stream and take photos or enjoy the sights. Remember that during heavy rain events stormwater from watershed neighborhoods enters the stream.

The water rises surprisingly quickly and that flooding can be dangerous.  If you get caught in a summer storm leave the stream and head to a safer part of the park.

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10
Apr

Spring is here, and that means the return of invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).  

Flowering garlic mustard

Native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, this plant was introduced to North America in the late-1800’s as a culinary herb.  An edible plant, it has a potent bitter garlic flavor and can be used in pestos and salads. Research shows that garlic mustard was one of the earliest spices used in cooking – it has been found on prehistoric pottery from approximately 4100 BC!

 

A field of garlic mustard

Garlic mustard thrives in Western Pennsylvania and quickly outpaces native plants, as it has no effective natural predators in North America and a very effective means of reproduction.  When invasive plants crowd out native plants, the food supply for our native animals, birds, and insects is reduced.

This plant is biennial, meaning that it completes its life cycle in two years.  In its first year, it has dark green rounded leaves forming a rosette growing close to the ground.  In its second year, it grows up to three feet tall, has heart-shaped leaves, and produces clusters of white flowers.   These flowers are capable of self-pollinating, allowing the spread of the species under less-than-ideal conditions.

1st year garlic mustard

So – how can you help?  It is important to pull garlic mustard during the first year of its life cycle if you are able. Try to remove as much of the taproot as possible and when there are flowers present, bag the plants so that they are not able to seed.  This is not a difficult process, but it is time consuming. Plants will be especially easy to pull if you do it right after it rains and the ground is soft. Also – don’t be discouraged! It can take 2-5 years to eradicate a patch, but a little patience and a continued commitment can make a huge difference!

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