Blue jay

Birds are plentiful within the 40.5 acres in Bethel Park sought by the Allegheny Land Trust.

Thousands of motorists pass the intersection of Route 88 and Connor Road in Bethel Park each day without giving a second thought as to what’s on the property just to the east.

A decades-old photograph reveals it as a massive mound of tailings, the ore waste from the long-defunct Mollenauer Mine No. 3.

Hiker

The site already features well-maintained trails.

Today, it looks completely different.

“This is a rare piece of property that’s undeveloped, really teeming with plants and wildlife,” Tom Dougherty said. “And it’s very unassuming.”

Dougherty is vice president of development and external affairs for the Allegheny Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization that is working toward acquiring the land and maintaining it permanently as green space.

“It’s been 80 years now, and nature has enabled this to recover,” he said. “It would be a shame to rip it all back up and do something else in there.”

With the support of Bethel Park officials, the land trust has secured an agreement to buy the 40.5 acres, contingent on the ability to raise the funds necessary to meet the requirements of a matching grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“There’s no guarantee that it will get approved,” Dougherty said, “but we believe that this is the type of project that they typically like to fund.”

Approval depends partially on coming up with the local share of money for the purchase, with the funding gap currently estimated at $270,000. Plans are to pursue other grants, from the state and private foundations, and to launch a capital campaign within the community.

Mound of tailings

The site as viewed from Connor Road in 1948, revealing a massive mound of tailings from a nearby coal mine

Site today

Allegheny Land Trust is looking to purchase the land behind the intersection of Route 88 and Connor Road in Bethel Park.

“The people I’ve talked to who live in the area are very supportive and want to know what they can do,” said Tim Moury, Bethel Park council president. “They’d love to help.”

Neighboring property owners have been using the site, but not for dumping and other undesirable activities, as Dougherty discovered when he first visited.

“This property was remarkably clean and had a very nice informal network of trails through there,” he recalled. “The neighbors very much appreciate it being green space.”

Moury agreed.

“Over the years, there have been a number of projects proposed for that site, all of which had been opposed by the neighborhood. This is something, I think, that everyone is going to be very supportive of,” he said.

Along with the conservation aspect, Allegheny Land Trust cites the potential for benefits such as:

n Providing a permanent, close-to-home place for outdoor recreation;

n Enhancing the attractiveness of the municipality for younger homeowners who increasingly cite proximity to open space as a major factor in their selection of a community to call home;

n Increasing property values and tax revenue;

n Creating a unique spot for environmental and history education for students and adults;

n Preventing further congestion on surrounding roads;

n Sequestering rainwater to help mitigate downstream flooding and to help with Bethel Park’s storm-water runoff abatement requirements.

“When you have an opportunity like this,” Dougherty said, “you kind of have to jump on it.”

For more information, visit alleghenylandtrust.org.

Greenway map

Courtesy of Allegheny Land Trust

A map of the 40.5 acres Allegheny Land Trust is attempting to purchase from Bethel Park.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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