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How land conservation in Allegheny County can help mitigate big problems

  • By Margaret J. Krauss/WESA
This photo was taken in the newly protected green space in Elizabeth Township. Tom Dougherty / Allegheny Land Trust

This photo was taken in the newly protected green space in Elizabeth Township. Tom Dougherty / Allegheny Land Trust

The nonprofit Allegheny Land Trust has acquired 155 acres of woodlands in Elizabeth Township. The land sits about a mile above the Youghiogheny River, and is home to wild turkey and other wildlife, as well as a network of trails. The organization sees its work playing an important role in Allegheny County’s future.

Since its creation nearly 30 years ago, the land trust has acquired more than 2,700 acres of land for conservation. Its guiding principle is to “help local people save local land.”

Tom Dougherty, vice president of development and external affairs, said the Allegheny Land Trust protects space for people to recreate, for environmental education, and for wildlife habitat. But conservation can also help reduce flash floods and landslides.

“How we treat our remaining green space will go a long way towards whether we exacerbate the issues the county is facing or whether we help to mitigate those,” he said.

The new Elizabeth Township conservation area annually captures about 128 million gallons of rainwater. Dougherty said preserving that natural sink can help prevent flooding in the area. Flooding has become a pressing issue in Allegheny County, which loses about 200 acres of land each year to development, said Dougherty.

“One of the things that a lot of people … treasure is the green space nearby and the green feel of our county,” he said.

The coronavirus pandemic has proven the importance of close-to-home green space, he said: the number of visitors to Allegheny Land Trust areas has doubled since March.

The organization is working with residents in Churchill, Penn Hills and Reserve Township, to protect two more large areas of land. The Churchill Valley Greenway project would protect 148 acres at the former Churchill Valley Country Club, and the Girty’s Wood conservation project would protect 155 acres.

Both are under contract, and are expected to close in March 2021; fundraising continues.

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