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How Does the Allegheny Land Trust Help Protect the Natural Environment?

May 31, 2016 12:31PM ● Published by Hilary Daninhirsch

Gallery: Allegheny Land Trust [1 Image] Click any image to expand.

A land trust is a private agreement between parties in which one holds land in trust for another for future use. The Allegheny Land Trust, established in 1993, is responsible for acquiring, protecting and stewarding 2,000 acres of the Pittsburgh region’s green spaces. We spoke with president and CEO Chris Beichner about how the Allegheny Land Trust operates and the latest projects here in the North Hills.

North Hills Monthly (NHM):

What is the mission of the Allegheny Land Trust?

Chris Beichner (Beichner):

In a nutshell, it is to help local people save local land for future generations. We go out and acquire and steward land for various reasons including ecological value, water quality management and scenic landscape.

NHM:

What was the impetus for the creation of this organization?

Beichner:

The county commissioners sent out a survey to residents and asked what their priorities were. Overwhelmingly, residents responded that they wanted to see more green space.  In the last 50 years, Allegheny County’s population has decreased by 25 percent, but at the same time, development has increased by 170 percent. They felt a need to have the county have local representatives protect green space; that is really how it started. The commissioners provided seed funding.  

NHM:

How does the Allegheny Land Trust typically acquire land?

Beichner:

We do it through various means. We will accept donated land, we will go out and fundraise and purchase pieces of property, and we also work with private landowners to place conservation easements on their privately held land—they continue to own the land, but as landowners they have a passion and interest to protect that land in perpetuity. That strips development rights on the land forever.

NHM:

To date, about how much land has the Allegheny Land Trust already saved and/or protected, in acreage?

Beichner:

We’ve protected 2,000 acres in the last 23 years; it takes a lot of money and effort to protect land. We have what is called our GREENPRINT, which we developed in the mid-2000s, that allows us to hone in on where we want to protect land. There are 45,000 acres of land that we want to protect in Allegheny County.

NHM:

What makes it so difficult?

Beichner:

First and foremost, we have to have a party that is willing to donate and/or sell land that we want to acquire. You have to have both sides willing to move forward on a transaction. 

Funding is also a challenge that all nonprofits face—it takes considerable dollars to protect land, and resources are shrinking all the time.

NHM:

What are some of the current projects going on in the North Hills?

Beichner:

At the end of 2015, we acquired a 168-acre piece of property called Linbrook Woodlands, next to Linbrook Park in Franklin Park. We protected it in a sensitive watershed; water flows from it into Big Sewickley Creek. After the acquisition, we worked with consultants from the University of Pittsburgh to do a series of focus groups and meetings on community engagement.  We did outreach to the community, letting them know about the protected property and the intent to create green space in perpetuity. We wanted to seek feedback from the community on how they would want to utilize that property. The information we received from Pitt will be used as part of a management plan as to how we manage property in the future, and we want to use that model going forward. Once we acquire property, we can’t live in a bubble—we want to reach out to neighbors; we want them to be our eyes and ears. 

NHM:

What is the status of the former Rave Cinema property in McCandless?

Beichner:

We had it under contract for a period of time at the end of last year; earlier this year, we let that contract period expire—our main investor initially was going to be McCandless Township. They were really great to work with, and we appreciate them stepping up. We were very interested in it because of the uniqueness of the project, and Pine Creek runs right through it. The property is flood-prone and a highly sensitive watershed. Ultimately, the investor backed out of the deal. We took time to look for other investors; we explored a couple of options, but they didn’t pan out. We decided to let it go—we hope it is still protected in the future.

NHM:

Why are these preserved spaces important? Why is our area in need of your organization?

Beichner:

First, we like clean drinking water, and our properties help to create that. Our properties are natural rain gardens that retain storm water, which is better sequestered in conservation areas than flooded into areas downstream, like Millvale and Etna.

Another reason—the more urbanized our county gets, the less habitat available for wildlife, and the more critters that we have in our backyards and in our gardens.  We all would prefer to keep wildlife in its natural habitat, and that’s what we do. We help to protect and keep that natural habitat for the diverse wildlife that we have in Pennsylvania.

There are many other reasons, including passive recreation opportunities for hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, hunters, canoers and kayakers. We have people all the time asking us if they can use our property for cookouts and camping and hunting. Our properties are very popular. Most of them are open to the public, and they have standard rules like you would find in a parklike setting.

NHM:

What should someone do if they have land that they want to preserve?

Beichner:

If someone wants to create a legacy by permanently protecting property, they should contact our office and speak to our staff. We have a full-time professional staff that works with conserving and managing lands on a daily basis.

For more information visit 

www.alleghenylandtrust.org.   n


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