Accessible trails coming to Beechwood Farms reserve
When Steve Thomas and his wife walk the scenic trails winding through Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, they always bring binoculars.
“We enjoy the exercise but are mostly looking at the birds and wildlife,’’ said Mr. Thomas, 64, of Aspinwall. “We see the changes in the season and the different birds and vegetation,’’ he said of the couple’s long walks through the 136acre reserve off Dorseyville Road in Fox Chapel.
After June 1, that same odyssey will be available to those who use wheelchairs, walkers, canes or baby strollers. That’s when a project to make two trails compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act is set to be complete.
Other work planned for this summer at the reserve, weather permitting, are a two-story addition to the Evans Nature Center and parking lot upgrades.
The two-story addition will allow the entire Evans barn to be used for events and educational programs as well as provide lowerfloor restrooms and additional storage space.
The parking upgrades involve changing the traffic pattern to make it easier and safer for students exiting buses on educational trips; adding ADA accessibility; and improving stormwater management in the parking lot.
The approximately four miles of existing trails and the Audubon Nature Store will remain open during construction.
Funding for the improvements comes from the Centennial Campaign of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, which manages and operates Beechwood Farms under an agreement with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The campaign raised $6.4 million of its $7 million goal, including $1.7 million for the Beechwood projects. The Audubon Society also owns and operates Succop Nature Park near Butler and Todd Nature Reserve in the Sarver section of Buffalo Township.
The two newly accessible trails at Beechwood will be named for families whose funding helped make the trails possible.
Gockley Trail, about a third of a mile long, will be the current Goldenrod Trail with the ADA improvements, including a uniform, crushed gravel surface.
Adler Trail, about a halfmile long, will be a repurposed part of the Spring Hollow and the Upper Fields trails and provide access to the Tree Top lookout for a panoramic view.
“We’re not obligated to do this, but it’s the right thing to do,” Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, said of the accessible trails.
The nonprofit 2,200-member Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania is the largest Audubon Society chapter in the state and is in the top five of nearly 500 chapters in North America in terms of budget, activities, membership and more.
The Western Pennsylvania chapter engages more than 5,000 students annually and provides programs for more than 4,000 families, adults and teachers.
“Our mission is connecting the people of southwestern Pennsylvania to birds and nature through our programs, projects and places,” Mr. Bonner said.
Its headquarters is in theAudubon Nature Store, which also houses a 125-seat auditorium. The campus also includes the Audubon Center for Native Plants, DiscoverGround Nature Play Area, Teacher Resource Center and Natural History Library.
“Everything we do has an educational component to it,” Mr. Bonner said.
That was evident April 8 at its version of an Easter egg hunt called an Eagle egg hunt. The traditional hunt for plastic, recyclable eggs included a discussion of the technology in the filming of the Hays and Harmar bald eagle nests and instruction on the chicken eggs and incubator brought in by a local farmer.
“We’re trying to encourage kids to be inquisitive,” Mr. Bonner said.
In a collaborative effort with the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, the chapter built 100 chimney swift towers in nine Allegheny County parks for chimney swifts, which nest and roost in chimneys becuase they cannot land on branches or walk on the ground. The towers contain four-sided kiosks with graphics on the birds and information on the towers.
“It is part of our educational outreach,” Mr. Bonner said.