With nine parks encompassing over 12,000 acres, Allegheny County boasts one of the largest regional park systems in the country. While a wide variety of recreational activities make each park a unique destination, nature is the common thread that connects our parks and is our most treasured asset. The abundant resources found in our parks' forests, meadows and streams provide vital habitat for flora and fauna that clean our air and water, pollinate our plants and connect the web of life. We are stewards of these natural sanctuaries and are working to protect them for future generations.
In 2016, the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, together with the Allegheny County Parks Department, partnered with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) to conduct an Ecological Assessment and Action Plan in South Park, the second collaboration of this type. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the natural resources and ecological assets in South Park and determine an implementation plan for protecting, preserving and improving the environmental health of the park.
South Park is a diverse ecosystem with examples of old growth hard wood trees including scarlet and red oaks, American elm, black walnut and butternut hickory; a variety of evergreens; an abundant mix of wildflowers and rare plant species that have a particular conservation value in our region. These include Short's sedge and crepis rattlesnake root, which is listed on the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program "Watch List." Several areas of the park have been penetrated by invasive species and the report urges management to protect native species.
WPC recommends converting several mowed areas to native meadows and new forests, a measure that will provide for a richer wildlife and pollinator habitat. It also noted value in restoring forests degraded by pests such as the emerald ash borer and the disease oak wilt. Protecting stream and wetland environments with riparian buffers and constructing bioswales to manage stormwater runoff were also recommended.
WPC suggested adding interpretive signage to help educate the public about significant historic stone structures and ecological features, developing a sustainable trail plan to guide decisions about which trails to restore and maintain and installing deer exclosures to protect tender native plant species from deer browsing while still allowing hikers access. The Allegheny County Parks Foundation is working with Allegheny County Parks to develop a prioritized set of implementation actions.
We are deeply grateful to the PNC Foundation and the Heinz Endowments for providing the funding to make this report possible. We also thank the outstanding staff at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Allegheny County Parks Department for their expertise and insightful contributions to this report. We look forward to working with the County Parks staff, the Friends of South Park and other partners to implement these recommendations and to continue this important work in all of the Allegheny County Parks.
Download the final report here.