Nine Mile Run Stewardship Model

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh's newest park, Nine Mile Run, has been nearly 100 years in the making. Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr. wrote of the site in 1911, "Perhaps the most striking opportunity noted for a large park is the valley of Nine Mile Run ... it is so excluded by its high wooded banks that the close proximity of urban development can hardly be imagined ... the entire valley from the top of one bank to the top of the other should be included, for upon the preservation of these wooded banks depends much of the real value of the parks." In addition to its desirable natural features, the property was ideally located along the Monongahela River and adjacent to Frick Park to its east.

Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the greater portion of the Nine Mile Run park envisioned by Olmsted became a slag (a byproduct of steel making) dump for the business that ruled the city during the industrial age. Between 1922 and 1972 the slag pile grew to 20 feet high and covered more than 200 acres. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Mayor Tom Murphy and other city leaders recognized a unique opportunity to recapture this riverfront site in 1997, when the Urban Redevelopment Authority purchased the property from Duquesne Slag. While the initial plan for the site was residential development, advocates resurrected the original Olmsted vision and included a 100-acre extension of Frick Park along the stream corridor. However, Nine Mile Run's natural resources had been damaged during the decades following 1911, and the 1997 valley required extensive environmental remediation, reforestation, and stream restoration.

Around the same time that city officials were planning to reclaim Nine Mile Run, a group of concerned citizens, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, were making plans to recapture the former beauty of Pittsburgh's four major parks. Through its connection to Frick Park and with funding from the City Parks Forum, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy took the lead in helping the city to investigate a stewardship structure in to restore and manage the environmental resources of the valley.

To accomplish this goal, the Conservancy contracted with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to review existing plans and agreements, as well as convene existing stakeholders and working groups, to formulate an organizational plan. The Council's recommendation, the creation of a watershed association, was enacted in Spring 2001. The fledgling Nine Mile Run Watershed Association includes both the City of Pittsburgh and upstream communities whose cooperation is critical to the health of the stream. The Watershed Association intends to be a model for urban watershed restoration. One of its first tasks is to support the city's partnership activities with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in creating a biologically sound ecosystem and stream restoration. In addition to serving this reclamation role, the association will serve as an information clearinghouse about the watershed and develop citizen participation opportunities around restoration, education, and long-term maintenance of the resource.


Mary Beth Steisslinger
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
22 McKee Place
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
(P) 412-682-7275

Patrick Hassett
City of Pittsburgh
Department of City Planning
200 Ross St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
(P) 412-255-2256
(F) 412-255-2838