Rebuilding a bridge — and an ecosystem

Fern Hollow Bridge

Rebuilding a bridge — and an ecosystem

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board – As city, state and federal governments prepare to clean up and rebuild the Fern Hollow Bridge, the emphasis will be almost entirely on the “Bridge,” and not the “Fern Hollow.”

But it’s important to remember that this bridge was, and will be, an integral part not just of the city’s road network, but of Frick Park. And Frick Park exists to preserve and to protect a tract of beautiful, wild land for the enjoyment of the people of Pittsburgh and beyond.

And so we commend UpstreamPgh, formerly the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, for its vigilance in ensuring the effects of construction on the much improved, but still fragile watershed are kept to a minimum.

Now, “minimum” is a relative term. There are going to be unavoidable disruptions to the park and its ecosystem. Citizens are going to demand, and rightly so, an expedited design and construction process, and that will come with trade-offs for Fern Hollow Creek, its surroundings and the larger stream — Nine Mile Run — that it feeds.

Heavy machinery, temporary roadways, tree removal. The pristineness of the ravine will suffer in the coming years.

But no matter the challenges it is always possible either to do better, or to do worse. Contractors and government officials should work closely with UpstreamPgh and other experts who can help them to design and build a replacement bridge that will respect its lovely and vibrant natural surroundings as much as possible.

Nine Mile Run through Frick Park is one of the largest and most notable urban stream restoration projects in the country. A hiker walking the plank causeways through the wetlands, if it weren’t for the constant humming of Parkway East traffic, could easily convince himself he was in a far flung state park. It’s hard to imagine that 20 years ago this creek was toxic and seemingly unsalvageable.

There’s still enough trash wedged in rocks and roots (not to mention sewage overflow during storms) that you might dissuade a precocious child from going wading, but that only accentuates the amount of progress that has been made — and that still can be made.

To that end, this is a perfect opportunity for public and private organizations to work together not just to mitigate the damage from the bridge, but to make Nine Mile Run and its tributaries better than ever. These hollows are some of the finest urban park landscapes in the country, and they deserve to be a focal point of this massive rebuilding effort.

Done right, years from now we will be able to say the collapse was the catalyst not just for a new Bridge, but for a new Fern Hollow.

Read the full editorial here.


Learn more about UpstreamPgh efforts to #ProtectFernHollow