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Overlooked no more: Wooded Fineview hillside is Pittsburgh's newest scenic vantage point

Pittsburgh has countless hillsides like the one just behind Allegheny General Hospital’s Hemlock Street parking garage. It’s thickly wooded, quite steep, and traversed by two sets of city steps rising off Fountain Street.

Workers remove invasive plants while preparing the site.
Scenic Pittsburgh
Workers remove invasive plants while preparing the site.

Like many such hillsides, this one, in Fineview, hasn't been terribly accessible to the average pedestrian. But as of Tuesday, the newly named Fountain Street Overlook — with its trails, stairs and views — is open for business.

Nonprofit group Scenic Pittsburgh revamped the 2.2-acre hillside site with help from partners including Allegheny Cleanways, which removed some three tons of trash from the site. And those two sets of steps now connect to a short wooded trail with wide-angle views of Mount Washington at one end and the Downtown skyline at the other.

“It was an inaccessible hillside — we have so many in Pittsburgh. And now it’s like a relaxing hike, and it’s a useful trail, as well,” Joanna Deming, executive director of the Fineview Citizens Council, another partner on the project, said at Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting.

Walking the Fountain Overlook trail feels a bit like traversing some of the trails in the city's Emerald View Park: Visitors can briefly feel surrounded by the woods — though they’re really just steps from houses and city streets on one side, and from a precipitous drop-off on the other. One end of the new trail connects to Graib Street.

“It is a nice short little trek through the woods,” said Carla Arnold, who does community engagement work for the Fineview Citizens Council. “And it’s nice just to have someplace to walk and stroll without there being cars or anything else like that that you have to worry about.”

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Scenic Pittsburgh first proposed the project five years ago. The group owns part of the site, and leases the rest from the city of Pittsburgh.

The whole project cost about $100,000, said Scenic Pittsburgh executive director Mike Dawida, with key funding from the Laurel Foundation and the Colcom Foundation. Other supporters included Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Allegheny Health Network. Grounded Strategies and Landforce also worked on the restoration project.

The short trail at the top of the overlook runs just downhill from — and parallel to — Henderson Street. The site had a previous life as a residential area, with 18 houses, which were torn down in the 1950s and ’60s, according to Scenic Pittsburgh, though evidence of their foundations remain.

The project also has an ecological component. Workers removed invasive plants, including knotweed, and planted 50 native mapleleaf viburnum shrubs.

Dawida, a former Democratic state senator and life-long Pittsburgh resident, said Scenic Pittsburgh continues to seek other sites where it can make similar transformations. Any land with scenic possibilities that is not easily built on, or is unusable for other reasons, might qualify. The group is already working on a second site in Fineview. A third, in the Hill District, is in the planning stage.

The Fountain Street Overlook, which is unlit, is open from dawn to dusk.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: