A new 2.2-acre greenspace is now open in the Hill District. The Colwell Connector is located next to Colwell and Diaz streets and the Wick, Lombard and Wyandotte stairs. Scenic Pittsburgh manages the property owned by the City of Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Scenic Pittsburgh.

A new greenspace is now open in the Hill District.

Formerly a site subject to illegal dumping and overgrown brush, about 2.2 acres of land is part of the new Colwell Connector. Located next to Colwell and Diaz streets and the Wick, Lombard and Wyandotte stairs, the property opens to the public today, June 20, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m.

“It’s amazing how many vacant, greenspace properties are in the Hill District,” says Dave Demko, assistant director of Scenic Pittsburgh, the general contractor on the project. “We looked at a lot of properties and met with a lot of community members.”

Scenic Pittsburgh, which is leasing the property from the city for the next two years, will manage the site and provide insurance. It also will contract with nonprofits to do the work. Allegheny Cleanways will pick up trash, Landforce will provide labor and Grounded Strategies will conduct surveys and create neighborhood cohorts. The Hill District Cooperative and Uptown Partners are also partners on the project.

This is Scenic Pittsburgh’s third greenspace project. Its first was Fountain Street Overlook on the North Side. It also revamped a small lot on Lanark Street in Fineview.

The organization focuses on sites not easily developed for housing or businesses, wooded lots and possible greenspaces. Scenic Pittsburgh also opposes billboards and consults on zoning regulations, building placement, landscaping requirements, signage and surface parking lots.

“The city has thousands of vacant lots and doesn’t have the resources to take care of it,” Demko adds. “As a result, these lots become abandoned and become dumping grounds. People think they have no value because they’re abandoned and get overgrown with knotweed, honeysuckle and a lot of dumping.”

Dave Demko, assistant director of Scenic Pittsburgh, works on the Colwell Connector project. This is Scenic Pittsburgh's third greenspace project. Photo courtesy of Scenic Pittsburgh.

Demko notes that many of the properties, such as the Colwell site, used to have houses on them even though they sloped steeply.

Scenic Pittsburgh completes three main tasks to restore properties — cleaning up trash, managing vegetation and building trails to access the space.

“We keep it simple, but the goal is to create accessible greenspaces that are assets to the community rather than dumping grounds,” he adds.”It’s a place where you can walk your dog or let your kids play now. You wouldn’t let them play there before.”

Allegheny Cleanways removed the accumulated litter from the site.

“We had already cleaned this site numerous times over many years,” says Lauren Pearman, education coordinator. “When cleaning isn’t followed up with re-greening efforts, stewardship or development, the litter and dumping will often come right back.”

Last September, Cleanways removed 5,000 pounds of garbage and 61 tires from the Colwell site.

“Most of the waste was illegally dumped construction debris and littered plastic bottles, but we also pulled out a huge bag of Barbie accessories and a full-sized basketball hoop,” she adds.

Scenic Pittsburgh hopes interested residents will help pick up trash. Residents can also call 311 to report illegal dumping.

“This site was covered with houses just a few decades ago, so we are still working on clearing and reclaiming foundation stones and other building materials,” said Mike Dawida, former Allegheny County commissioner and current executive director of Scenic Pittsburgh, in a press release. “The stairway needs additional repair, and we would like to add fencing and some other amenities.

The project is expected to cost about $50,000, which includes the cost of dumpsters, labor and fruit trees. Scenic Pittsburgh has received funding from the Hillman, Hunt and Colcom foundations.

Demko says they plan to plant apple trees and paw paws and are in conversations with Tree Pittsburgh about planting nut trees.

The Colwell Connector site was dotted with houses until a few decades ago. Some foundations of homes remain, and the site was recently cleaned up from illegal dumping. Scenic Pittsburgh expects the cost of labor, cleanup and planting to cost about $50,000. Photo courtesy of Scenic Pittsburgh.

The Colwell site is open from dawn to dusk. The terrain is rough and steep, and there are exposed foundations from torn down homes. Paths connect Diaz and Colwell streets to the Wick and Lombard stairs.

Scenic Pittsburgh is also pushing to have Allegheny River Boulevard designated as a scenic byway.

“It was originally built as a scenic road, designed in the late 1920s as part of the City Beautiful Movement,” Demko says. “It’s been neglected for the past 80 years.”

Scenic Pittsburgh hopes to restore stone observation platforms, manage vegetation and clean up trash.

A Pittsburgh native, Ethan is a freelance journalist interested in telling the stories of people doing great things to build community and sustainability. Ethan served as Editor-in-Chief of Allegheny College's newspaper, The Campus.