Monday, October 29, 2018

Dedicated Volunteers Are Helping To Restore Toms Run Nature Reserve In Allegheny County

The following article appeared in the Fall Conserve Magazine published by the Western PA Conservancy--
Large areas of undeveloped forested land are rare in Allegheny County, especially in highly developed areas near Pittsburgh.
However, there is no shortage of people who appreciate that these natural areas still exist, especially when those areas are right at their doorsteps.
“It’s such a beautiful and special place,” says Joy Ruff, describing Toms Run Nature Reserve, where she and her husband, Derek, frequently hike with their dogs Dexter and Bailey.  “We live in Ohio Township and really appreciate that this beautiful urban forest is right in our backyard. There’s no other place like it close by.”
In addition to its natural beauty and recreational value, it has ecological significant as well, it is one of fewer than 40 Natural Heritage Areas across Allegheny county that host important plant and animal habitats.
This is far fewer than other counties, which makes safeguarding toms Run all the more important.
Toms Run Nature Reserve is located just 10 miles from downtown Pittsburgh in western allegheny County near I-79 and Route 65 in Ohio and Kilbuck townships.
In 1977 the [Western PA] Conservancy began protecting land to create the reserve, with its forested hillsides that include large stands of mature maple oak and american beech trees.
Over the years, more land was protected and added to the reserve, and by 1991, it had stretched to 317 acres.
Toms Run, which flows along the eastern border, is the largest of several streams on the reserve.
Over the past decade, the [Western PA] Conservancy has focused on removing the physical remnants of years of agriculture, gas and residential development.  These efforts included demolishing dilapidated buildings, capping abandoned oil and gas wells, and limiting the use of ATVs and dirt bikes.
Joy is one of the more than 500,000 people who live within 10 miles of the reserve.  Along with a group of other dedicated volunteers, Joy has helped the Conservancy in its efforts to restore the property’s natural features and improve wildlife habitat.
Volunteer activities have included pulling invasive plants, clearing trash and creating paths for new trails-- one of which will be  ADA-accessible path long one of the small streams.
She’s committed to working with the Conservancy because she wants to see the reserve restored and believes the area is the perfect place to attract and foster the next generation of nature lovers.
“It’s a great opportunity to teach and show the importance of forests and water quality protection right in the middle of a populated, developed area,” she said.  “It’s a great place to hike now, so I’m excited about what the future holds for toms Run and for so many many different people.”
Andy Zadnick, WPC’s director of land stewardship, is excited about Toms Run’s future too.  Working from the Conservancy’s Pittsburgh office located only 11 miles away, Andy is leading the work to enable more people to explore and experience the reserve.
“I have a personal, vested interest in Toms Run, not only because of my job but because it’s close to my home,” Andy said.  “I want my family and others to experience and care for this natural area today and years to come.”
Plans are in their final stage for an expanded, ADA-accessible parking lot that will accommodate school buses.  Work on the 2.5-mile trail loop is expected to begin in spring 2019, with the help of professional trail builders and local volunteers.
Future plans also include trail and educational signs.
Last year, students from Pittsburgh’s Environmental Charter School used Toms Run as an outdoor classroom to identify various bird species.  With the upcoming improvements, and others that will be possible in the future as additional resources are available, many more school groups and nature lovers will be able to enjoy and learn at this close-at-hand nature spot.
Andy coordinated several workdays over the past few years, at which Joy and other dedicated volunteers, including Troy Cook, Neison Craige and Conservancy board member Dan Nydick have participated.
Andy said his son Ethan participates in these workdays, too, and provides them all with inspiration to make Toms Run a place where other young kids can learn, enjoy and explore.
Andy said thank you is not enough for all the volunteers’ time, help and support.
“We still have a lot Of work to do to fully implement the visiton for Toms Run, but much has already been done thanks to the time, effort and dedication of our volunteers,” he added.  “Their work truly exemplifies what happens when local people are passionate about supporting local land.”
More information is available on programs, initiatives and special events at the Western PA Conservancy website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Conservancy, Like them on Facebook, Follow them on Twitter, add them to your Circle on Google+, join them on Instagram, visit the Conservancy’s YouTube Channel or add them to your network on Linkedin.  Click Here to support their work.
(Photo: Environmental Charter School students from Pittsburgh; Joy & Derek Ruff.)
(Reprinted from the Fall Conserve Magazine published by the Western PA Conservancy.)

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