Pittsburgh itself is quite a walkable city, but we also have a ton of suburbs and residential city areas that are also quite explorable. And in the ‘Burgh, we’ve got a great group that is trying to bring the lesser-known areas of town to everyone: Urban Hike.
We’d been trying to make it out to this for over a year now, but they only run one hike a month, and only during the warmer months (May thru October), so we always have to work around my weekend work schedule. Finally, there was a weekend I was off and there was a hike… but Michael was off at a book festival for the day. I decided to go it alone just to check it out. And while going for a group hike as a solo hiker seems like it could be a little overwhelming, I had SUCH an amazing time. I can’t wait to go back and bring Michael!
The hike I attended was the Marshall-Shadeland area (an area near Bellevue and McKees Rocks), and it started off with a free tour of Alcosan, as part of Alcosan’s yearly open house. Alcosan (or Allegheny County Sanitary Authority) is our local water treatment plant, responsible for taking the bad stuff out of sewage and making the water usable again. Each year, they host a free open house for the public to come and learn about the organization. I would never have known about this if not for the Urban Hike, so I’m glad I went! (When I was little, my friend and I toured the Neville Chemical Plant with her parents on their open house – Pittsburgh is awesome like that!)
As kids, we used to call the Alcosan plant ‘the poopoo pots.’ This was in part due to the fact that it used to stink (like poopoo) any time you passed by the plant. But no longer – we learned on the tour about all of the efforts throughout the years to make Alcosan a cleaner and more environmentally-sound place, and those efforts have paid off. We were able to enjoy the tour pretty stink-free!
This is Pete. Not only does he have one of the finest mustaches in the 412, he’s also kind of a big deal at Alcosan. He was our tour guide for the trip through the plant, and he was rattling off all sorts of details and statistics so fast it was hard to wrap my head around it all. (The TL;DR version: Alcosan does everything they can to be environmentally sound, find your missing diamond rings that fell down the drain, and educate us Yinzers about water usage and conservation.)
I took a TON of pictures, but I’ll just post a few of the highlights, and put the rest on Facebook. This is one of the main sewage pumps in the big pump room. There are six of them, and they’re all color-coded. Below these? A huuuuuuuuge drop. Like, ‘you’re going to get vertigo if you look down’ style.
After a lengthy process to make the water usable and sanitary again, it goes right back out into the Ohio River! We got to see all of the steps of this process on our tour, including checking out some ducks hanging out in the water before it gets purified (they were super happy, splashing around in almost-not-dirty water).
Pete was an awesome tour guide, too, answering all of our questions along the trip. He told us a lot about the tough schedules they keep (Alcosan never sleeps!) and the different roles the staff all take on throughout their shifts. He also told us about something he calls ‘Sophie Scrubbers,’ which are the reason the ‘poopoo pots’ don’t smell much anymore. Back when Sophie Masloff was our mayor, one of her initiatives was an effort to clean up Alcosan to make it more livable for the staff and also for the public touring the facility.
After our guided tour, we had a little bit of time to check out the other booths at the Open House, and also get some awesome free barbecue! I got my picture taken with Frankie the Fish, who is the Alcosan mascot. They do a lot of programs with school students, and even had a few booths set up for different grade levels to do projects for their science classes and earn extra credit. I was really impressed with everything I learned about Alcosan, and I would definitely recommend checking out their Open House to anyone – they’ve got stuff for people of all ages to enjoy!
Once our tour of Alcosan was over, it was time to hit the streets for the Urban Hike. We started with a big climb up a huuuuge hill. We went under several railroad bridges, and underneath Route 65 (Ohio River Boulevard).
Part of the way through the hike, we stopped at the Cafe n Creamery, a cute little coffeeshop and community place in the Marshall-Shadeland area. They opened up just for us to come in, and it was a welcome break after those big hills. They have a lot of options, including your standard coffees and teas, and also smoothies, ice cream, and snacks from the grill, and they’re more than just a coffeeshop, they do a lot for the community, including some after-school programs for local kids, and a community garden for local residents.
From there, we hit the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and walked along the Ohio River back to Alcosan. I never noticed these before, but along the trail, they notate how far from the Point you are. (Noticed them today on our bike ride along the Allegheny, so they’re all over the trail!)
The final landmark along the hike is the State Correctional Institution. I thought this was an abandoned prison, as a lot of it is in a state of disrepair, but it actually reopened in 2007. It only houses low-to-medium security criminals, and only those with substance abuse issues, but it’s definitely still seeing some action!
All told, our hike took us over 4 miles and around 2 hours. There was so much to see, and with the perfect weather, everything looked like an awesome shot. I also learned a lot about an area I might not have otherwise ever even known existed (we have a lot of those little almost-invisible places in the ‘Burgh it turns out – I hope they do one of these in Fairywood, that mysterious place I see on PAT busses but could never point out on a map). And everyone I met was so friendly. I must have walked with 8 or 10 different people at various points of the hike, and had a great time chatting with them all.
I can’t wait for the next Urban Hike we can attend, and I can’t wait to bring my husband along this time!