Environment

Protecting the Parks

The flat-headed, mucus-covered salamander recently named Pennsylvania’s state amphibian goes by many names: snot otter, lasagna lizard, devil dog, mud-devil, grampus, Allegheny alligator. Most commonly, however, they’re known as the Eastern hellbender. The big, slimy amphibians are found under large, flat rocks in Pennsylvania’s fast-moving rivers and streams, such as the Youghiogheny River. They rarely …

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The Importance of Water

Watershed expert April Claus called to the 20 Quaker Valley High students splashing through a creek bed in their muck boots: “Who wants to release the brown trout?” They were part of Claus’s environmental science internship—the Quaker Valley Creekers. And on that autumn day they waded into Little Sewickley Creek, releasing some fish and collecting …

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Clouds gathering over Pittsburgh

As his rowboat swept over Penn Avenue, Charles H. Allard looked for the bronze tablet on the Horne’s building. The object commemorated the high water mark of the Flood of 1907, previously the most severe flood to ravage Pittsburgh. Allard, reporting for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on March 18, 1936, couldn’t see it. Allard and two …

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Nature’s Comeback

Every year, while spring was busy prying away the season from winter’s grasp, my family would make the trek down to Deep Creek, Maryland, to visit my grandparents’ cottage. The drive from our Long Island home was just over seven hours, which, to a kid with very little concept of or care for time, was …

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Warning Signs

On the first warm day of May, Jim Chestney cuts through thickets of black huckleberry and laurel and ponders his impending climb to a timber rattlesnake den on a central Pennsylvania mountain. It’s a toss-up as to which poses the greater threat—the venomous pit viper Crotalus horridus or its unforgiving habitat. Chestney can attest to …

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Greening the region

It was 1868—when looking down from the Hill District to smokestacks belching fire and smoke, a riverbank littered with coal barges and railroads, and a bottomland saturated with muddy streets and gritty row houses pressed hard against the Allegheny River, Boston writer James Parton described Pittsburgh as “Hell with the lid taken off.” Today, Parton …

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A  World Leader

Sitting in the bright, airy café at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Richard Piacentini stamps his foot on the floor. The tiles he thuds against are simple white squares. However, that hardly noticed floor has proven to be both bane and catalyst to a sea change in thinking about every aspect of Phipps’s operations. In …

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Was Rachel Carson  Right?

Patricia DeMarco, Director of the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University, has heard the question before. Has history—and science—proven that Springdale, Pa., native Rachel Carson was right in her book, “Silent Spring”? Not just about the most celebrated of her attacks—the impact on the environment of the widely used herbicide DDT—but the other big-picture points …

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Bring Back the Paddlefish

A century ago, as work neared completion on the region’s locks and dams and Pittsburgh was producing half of the nation’s steel, paddlefish disappeared from the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. A cousin to sturgeon and equally coveted for its roe, this curious-looking creature with the spatula-like snout used to thrive here—ranging great distances and …

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Facing Extinction

Wildlife biologists Greg Turner and DeeAnn Reeder slip into the sort of coveralls you would expect to see on an infectious disease ward and enter the cold, musty confines of an old Fayette County mine. With headlamps lighting their rubble-strewn path, they venture deep into a labyrinth of rooms long abandoned except by bats. Here, …

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High-Tech Sylvania

On a cool morning late in 2006, the phone rang in Esther Barazzone’s office, a suite overlooking Chatham University’s cozy Shadyside campus. Preoccupied by the re-accreditation of the undergraduate women’s program and preparations for new graduate degrees, the president was unprepared for the question she heard on the line from Dan Onorato’s office: Would Chatham possibly …

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Our Endangered River

It’s a crisp November morning, some 25 years ago.  Bob Ging and Don Gales are hunting on a ridge in Lower Turkeyfoot, Somerset County, where green hemlocks mingle with bare winter hardwoods. “Boy, this is beautiful,” says Ging as sunrise reveals the emerald waters of Laurel Hill Creek in the valley. Gales has a timber …

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A Rhapsody in Blue

This summer, as Pittsburgh hosts World Environment Day and the world focuses on biodiversity, a small river 90 miles north of the city will do what it has always done. Quietly, its waters wind along a 117-mile path from Chautauqua County, New York, into western Pennsylvania, where it joins the Allegheny River at Franklin. And …

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Protecting Cook Forest

Anthony Cook has a name that carries responsbility. He is the fifth generation of the Cook family—and the fourth named Anthony—involved in the creation and preservation of Cook Forest State Park. The story began in 1826, when John Cook, Anthony’s great-great-grandfather, ventured to the rugged hills of western Pennsylvania on a surveying expedition for the …

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Parks for the Future

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County’s parks were special places to me. I learned to ski at Boyce Park, and my family had fall picnics at Hartwood Acres. As an adult, I’ve explored them in different ways—mountain biking, rollerblading and going to concerts. And since November, when I became executive director of …

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The River Starts Here

For the Allegheny River, a journey of 352 miles begins with a single drop of water. Emerging from a hillside in rural, wooded Potter County, in northern Pennsylvania, the trickle swells to a river that provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people, 72 miles of navigable waterway for barges and industry and a …

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