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Process To Make Pittsburgh's Hays Woods A Park Continues, Slowly

Hays Woods
Noah Brode
90.5 WESA
Seasonal streams are part of the landscape in Hays Woods.

It was five years ago that the Urban Redevelopment Authority acquired Hays Woods with the idea that it would become the City of Pittsburgh’s newest — and largest — public park. Two years ago this August, the city’s own Hays Woods Task Force seconded that goal, and outlined the process ahead.

So what’s up with Hays Woods today?

The answer, in short, is that creating a brand-new city park, especially one on 626 acres that once hosted coal mining, isn’t a quick-turnaround proposition, city officials say. And it’s still sure to be years before anyone’s picnicking or hiking in Hays Woods, at least legally.

The story of how Hays Woods was slated to become a city park at all is an unlikely one. Hays Woods is bounded to the north by the far reaches of East Carson Street along the Monongahela River, and to the south mostly by Baldwin Borough. Almost two decades ago, the property's owner proposed building a casino, horse track, retail center, and residential development there, and strip-mining the site for coal. But those plans — which were loudly opposed by many in the community — fell through, and the site lay dormant. Then, in July 2016, after months of unpublicized negotiations, the land-owner sold the site to the URA for $5 million, a fraction of its market value.

The city set up a task force that held public meetings and issued its report.

But many challenges remain, even for swath of land enough returned to nature to play host to seasonal streams and nesting bald eagles. Those century-old coal mines must be sealed, and the city is in talks with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection about how to proceed, said Department of City Planning spokesperson Audrey Wells.

“We’re still figuring out what’s the best way for us to go about this remediation,” said Wells.

Moreover, the city must conduct a master-planning process before the URA can turn over the land. And Wells said the city can’t do that yet, either, because it has prioritized master plans for parks like Fort Pitt Park, in Garfield, and Fowler Park and Pool, in Perry South.

“We will get to Hays Woods, we’re just not there right now,” she said last week.

While no public meetings are currently planned on Hays Woods, Wells said there will be ample opportunity for public input once the master-planning process does get underway.

The land, meanwhile, is off-limits to visitors without permission from the URA. Wells said permits are available to hunters or for special events.

The 2019 Hays Woods Task Force report indicated it could take a decade or more to turn the tract into an official park.

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: bodriscoll@wesa.fm