Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Accessible trails coming to Beechwood Farms reserve

- By Margaret Smykla

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.

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