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Some Riverfront Trails May Look Bare, But It's OK. Native Plant Restoration Is Underway

Gene J. Puskar
Lunchtime walkers enjoy the Allegheny Heritage trail on the Northside of Pittsburgh, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. At the top of the frame is the Eastern redbud tree.

If some of the city’s riverfront trails look a little bare right now, there's no cause for concern. Restoration efforts are underway to remove invasive species and introduce plants native to Pennsylvania.

The Redbud Project is a collaboration between the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, City of Pittsburgh and Riverlife. Since 2016, they’ve been planting native species, including the redbud tree.

“It’s a native tree and an early bloomer in the spring,” said Jeff Bergman, director of community forestry and TreeVitalize Pittsburgh for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. “It has these bright pink and purple blossoms and it’s really noticeable after a long, drab winter.”

Crews began restoration efforts along the riverfront trails close to downtown, and have been gradually moving along the city’s three rivers.

“We’re bringing cleaner air, cleaner water, more habitat for animals and wildlife,” Bergman said. “There’s also a kind of cultural aspect to the project that’s maybe somewhat akin to the Cherry Blossom Festival in [Washington] D.C.”

Invasive plants remove nutrients from the land and don’t provide adequate shelter for wildlife. Recently near the 16th Street Bridge along River Avenue, a significant amount of Japanese honeysuckle was removed. Bergman admits the portion of the trail looks bare, but said it’s all part of the plan.

“Anyone that’s been done along the trail as they’re seeing this restoration work happen [will see] it’s pretty dramatic,” Bergman said. “It’s not like [the Japanese honeysuckle] is unattractive, but it provides almost no habitat value.”

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
The trail along the Allegheny River on Pittsburgh's North Shore, where plant restoration is taking place.

Restoration work typically takes place in cooler seasons, like spring and fall, when the ground isn’t frozen, but plants are dormant. The smaller trees will be covered in the green tubes until they’re big enough to withstand nibbles from rodents along the trail.

“Those basically act like protective greenhouses,” Bergman said. “One bunny could take dozens of those trees. So it’s very important that we protect them.”