Allegheny County Comprehensive Parks Master Plan

April 2000 Public Meeting Results

OVERVIEW

The first series of meetings on the Allegheny County Comprehensive Parks Master Plan was held from April 11 to April 13, 2000. Five meetings were conducted in the following locations:

  • Allegheny County Courthouse (Pittsburgh)
  • Boyce Park
  • North Park
  • Round Hill Park
  • South Park

The purpose of these meetings was to solicit input from residents regarding County parks issues that they feel are important. The meetings at South and North Parks were heavily attended, while smaller numbers of people attended the other three meetings. All comments made at the meetings were recorded on easel pads. In addition, South and North Park meeting attendees were invited to submit written comments on index cards. (Attendees were not precluded from both making verbal comments and submitting written comments.)

For the purpose of evaluating the results of the public meetings, all spoken and written comments have been divided into the following issue categories:

Circulation (C): Vehicular traffic/roadways and relationships/ conflicts between vehicles, bikers, walkers, etc.
Education (E): The role of parks in providing the public with opportunities for education and interpretation.
Financing (F): Park financing, revenue generation, and use of the parks for private concessions/enterprises.
Historic Resources (H): Historic and cultural resources in the county parks.
Maintenance (M): Maintenance of park facilities (including support facilities such as restrooms) and staffing.
Management (MG): The County's organizational structure for managing the park system, as well as general policies related to parkland management.
Natural Resources (N): Natural resources and wildlife.
Open Space (OS): County-wide open space, parks, and trails (i.e., beyond the borders of individual county parks).
Publicity (P): Communication of information to the public regarding the parks and their facilities, programs, and resources.
Park Design (PD): Design elements within the county parks, such as landscaping and signage.
Partnerships/Volunteers (PV): Involvement of outside organizations and individuals in park affairs (e.g., maintenance).
Recreation (R): Recreational facilities and their usage.
Safety (S): Safety and security in the county parks.
Special Events (SE): Special events held in county parks.
Other (O): Issues not addressed by the previous categories.

Complete lists of public comments from the five meetings are included as an appendix to this report. In the appendix, the reference letters indicated above identify the issue category or categories to which each comment pertains. A summary of findings for each of the categories is presented below.

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

Circulation
Vehicular and other forms of circulation were a common concern, particularly in relation to North and South Parks. Major issues noted include:

  • The need for better separation between vehicles, bicyclists, joggers, walkers, etc. along Corrigan Drive in South Park and around the lake in North Park. This issue was also mentioned in relation to trail use (mountain bikers versus walkers).
  • Increasing traffic volumes and (especially) speeds on roadways in both South and North Parks. Lowering/enforcing speed limits was a frequent recommendation.
  • Concern regarding the impact of proposed improvements to Corrigan Circle on traffic congestion.

Education
Several persons commented on the value of the county parks for education and interpretation of resources. This issue was primarily focused on natural resources, including environmental education programs and interpretive trails. Interpretation of farming at Round Hill Park and involvement of students in park activities such as maintenance were also mentioned.

Financing
A number of persons commented on a range of issues related to park financing, revenue generation, and use of the parks for private concessions and other enterprises. Many of the comments addressed the need to better fund the county parks. Specific suggestions included, among others, returning user fees to parks rather than the General Fund, raising fees or otherwise enhancing revenue generation at specific facilities, and soliciting corporate sponsorships/subsidies. Introducing additional, higher quality concessions was also mentioned by some, primarily in the context of better serving park users. Others advocated maintaining or lowering user fees or limiting private development/enterprise in the parks. The diversity of opinion on this issue was reflected by both support and opposition for the concept of a commercial enterprise modeled after the Oglebay Resort and Conference Center in Wheeling, WV.

Historic Resources
Preservation of historic and cultural resources within the parks was mentioned as an issue of concern, particularly in relationship to Round Hill Park (farming tradition, Angora House, former Harmony House) and South Park (Oliver Miller Homestead, monuments, etc.). One person suggested that the history of the parks should be documented and preserved, while another mentioned the possibility of a museum in South Park to highlight its rich history.

Maintenance
Improving the maintenance of parks and park facilities was a major concern of many attendees, particularly in South Park. Frequently cited issues included:

  • Mowing of grass areas (South Park).
  • Maintenance/pruning of trees and shrubs and removal of dead trees.
  • Pickup of litter and removal of trash.
  • Trail maintenance.
  • The physical deterioration of buildings, picnic shelters, and other structures.
  • The condition of recreational facilities such as tennis courts (South Park) and ballfields.
  • The need for improved restroom facilities (including removal of port-a-johns)

Many people identified lack of adequate maintenance as the number one issue adversely affecting the quality of their park experience. These persons asserted that addressing this issue should take precedence over developing new facilities. It was also suggested that future maintenance be taken into consideration in selecting materials for and otherwise developing any park improvements. Insufficient commitment of resources by the County (staffing and funding) was commonly noted as the cause of the current situation. Other issues mentioned included, among others, the impact of maintenance practices on natural resources (see Natural Resources below), the involvement of outside groups in maintenance activities (see Partnerships/Volunteers below), and rehabilitation/reuse of vacant homes in South Park.

Management
Several persons recommended that a new management structure be established for county parks, in the form of an independent body (e.g., a parks authority) and a director with a professional background in parks and recreation. Several other comments addressed the overall philosophy and policies of the County vis-a-vis management of the parks system. These comments included:

  • The need for a renewed commitment by county government to the parks, including a long-range vision and planning.
  • Concern regarding the use of parkland for non-park uses, including both unrelated public uses and sale of land for private developments. A related comment for Round Hill Park emphasized the use of the park for its intended purpose (farm).
  • A lack of attention by the County to the more remote parks (Round Hill Park, Harrison Hills Park).

Natural Resources
Preservation and enhancement of natural resources in the county parks system was an issue frequently cited by meeting attendees. Comments ranged from a general affirmation of the importance of natural resources and green space to specific issues such as concern over degradation of the natural environment (e.g., stream pollution, invasive plants, impact of maintenance practices), support of naturalist programs, and the need for improvements to the South Park game preserve. A number of persons raised deer as an issue, including both support of management to control overpopulation and (in the South Park meeting) several comments strongly opposed to hunting for this purpose. The importance placed on natural resources and open space was reflected in a number of comments on the recreational value of trails that allow park users access to these resources (see Recreation below).

Open Space
The great majority of comments at the public meetings focused on the county parks. However, some persons raised issues related to open space preservation in Allegheny County as a whole. Specific recommendations included:

  • Establish a trail system to link together different parks.
  • Acquire/preserve more land for open space, possibly working with other groups such as the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
  • Work with local municipalities to provide recreation land.

Publicity/Communications
A number of persons commented on the need to better communicate to the public what the county parks system has to offer. Specific comments included:

  • The need for more aggressive public outreach regarding county park facilities, programs, and events (e.g., newsletters, advertising, web site with maps and directions to county parks)
  • The need for better information regarding what is available in the county parks (e.g., updated brochures and maps with current trail information)
  • The contribution county parks can make to the perceived quality of life of Allegheny County if properly promoted

One person noted a lack of publicity and events in Harrison Hills Park, calling it a "forgotten park."

Park Design
Several comments dealt with issues related to the physical design of parks. General issues included support for landscaping/ "beautification" and improved signage. Some persons commented on specific design features in North and South Park, including concern regarding the "arboretum" in North Park, the condition of the Brownsville Road entrance to South Park, the proliferation of memorials in South Park, and support for landscaping or other measures to reduce the visibility of South Park parking lots from roadways.

Partnerships/Volunteers
There was considerable support for the concept of public/private partnerships to maintain and improve the county parks, including the use of volunteers. (This was a prevalent theme in the North Park meeting in particular.) A broad spectrum of entities were mentioned as potential collaborators on maintenance and improvement projects, including user groups, non-profit organizations, local municipalities, schools, scouts, private businesses, etc. Creation of a paid "volunteer coordinator" position within the Department of Public Works was recommended to encourage and mobilize the potentially large pool of willing volunteers. Another suggestion was establishment of a non-profit organization - "Friends of Allegheny County Parks" - to help fundraise and address pressing issues at each park.

Recreation
This category evoked the largest number of responses. The large number of comments was partly in response to the index card questions on recreational facilities and programs. ("What are the most important facilities or programs in the parks system that should be maintained or improved? What new facilities or programs should be added?") It is also indicative of the participation and interest of park users in a broad variety of activities, including unstructured leisure pursuits such as walking, biking, and enjoyment of nature in addition to organized recreation. The most frequently mentioned facilities were trails/paths for hikers, bikers, walkers, etc. and various types of athletic fields, particularly soccer fields. The existing pools, golf courses, skating rinks, tennis courts, and playgrounds were all frequently mentioned as facilities to be maintained or enhanced. A number of the comments on tennis were specifically directed at the condition of the courts in South Park. Some persons recommended specialized types of recreational facilities/activities for addition to the county parks. These included, among others, equestrian facilities, dog park(s), a roller skating or skateboard facility, and disc golf.

Safety
The most frequently mentioned issue related to safety and security was the need for better separation of vehicular from other forms of traffic (biking, walking, etc.) and lighting along Corrigan Drive. (Speeding is another concern that has been previously noted above under Circulation.) Crime was not mentioned as an issue, except for the perception that Harrison Hills Park is not safe because it is used by groups engaging in drugs and other illicit behavior. In addition, teenagers "hanging out" in parking lots is an issue of concern in South Park. One person made the general comment that if more people use the parks, safety will be increased. Several specific recommendations to improve safety were made, including establishment of emergency call boxes, Automatic Defibrillators at the South Park golf course and on each police vehicle, and "Strieter Lites" to reduce deer-vehicle accidents using reflectors.

Special Events
A relatively small number of comments addressed special events in the county parks. Most of these comments were supportive of existing event-oriented programs, including the summer concerts at Hartwood Acres and South Park and the theater at South Park. One person expressed support for "bringing back" the county fair, while another advocated establishment of a "motor sports facility" to accommodate motor sports events (local sports car clubs, etc.). Only one comment addressed a perceived "negative" associated with special events: the labor required for the Celebration of Lights takes workers away from other parks.

Other
Several people at the North Park and South Park meetings commented on the adverse effects of loud music in the parks (i.e., car radios and "boom boxes"), advocating that such music be banned or limits be placed upon it. A variety of other comments fell into the "Other" category. These ranged from general comments about the character of individual parks (e.g., Harrison Hills and Boyce) to specific recommendations such as placement of bleachers at the fields at the fairgrounds, water fountains along Corrigan Drive, enclosure of the South Park pony ring parking lot with fencing, and use of "green building materials and recycled content construction materials."

CONCLUSION

As a general observation, the meetings were noteworthy for the liveliness of the discussions and the level of interest expressed by participants. It is evident that those in attendance care about the county parks and feel that they are important to their quality of life. There was also concern - expressed most clearly in the south park meeting - that the ideas and issues identified by the public be addressed in a meaningful way in the development and implementation of the comprehensive parks master plan. The planning process is in fact designed to elicit public input, as derived from public meetings and a mail survey of county residents, as a primary factor in shaping the plan. The findings of the public participation program will be used to help formulate 1) an overall policy framework for the future development of the parks system, 2) an analysis of recreational needs to be met by the county parks system, and 3) recommendations for actions to be taken to implement the plan.