USC Citizens for Land Stewardship
Conservation and stewardship of land and natural resources in Upper St. Clair

Greenways: Linking it All Together

by Jeffrey Wagner

Many of us have heard of greenways, many may have hiked or biked through one or more, but for most of us, the concept remains broad and fuzzy. Part of the confusion lies in the multiple functions that greenways can serve. Another part of that confusion rests with the number of uses that greenways can accommodate and the many groups that they may attract.

To begin, let’s define “greenway”. There are numerous definitions but one provided by the Pennsylvania Greenways Partnership combines many of the essentials in describing a greenway:

“A greenway is a corridor of open space. Greenways vary greatly in scale, from narrow ribbons of green that run through urban, suburban, and rural areas to wide corridors that incorporate diverse natural, cultural, and scenic features. Greenways can be land or water based, running along stream corridors, shorelines or wetlands. Some follow old railways, canals, ridge tops, or other features. They can incorporate both public and private property. Some greenways are primarily recreational corridors, while others function almost exclusively for environmental protection and are not designed for human passage. Greenways differ in their location and function, but overall, a greenway network will protect natural, cultural, and scenic resources, provide recreational benefits, enhance the natural beauty and the quality of life in neighborhoods and communities, and stimulate economic development opportunities.”

The natural landscape, development patterns, and available opportunities go a long way in determining how a greenway will function and who will use it. Forested corridors along rivers and streams are obvious cores for greenways; development is restricted, forest cover exists, and the corridor is well defined. Greenways associated with rivers serve to reduce sediment, control erosion, and provide wildlife habitat and opportunity for animal and plant migration and movement. If a railbed, old road or other right-of-way exists, these areas can also serve as premier recreational corridors. River greenways may extend beyond the riparian zone and the steeper slopes along the river to upland fields and forest. The upland areas within these corridors serve some of the same functions and by providing buffer and additional habitat, greatly expand the ability of the greenways to serve as important conservation areas.

A local example of a river greenway that incorporates both strong recreational and conservation functions is the Montour Greenway. This corridor follows Montour Run from the Ohio River at Coraopolis to the Allegheny-Washington County border near Champion, then follows the abandoned rail line through to Clairton on the Monogahela River. The Montour Trail Alliance has led the effort in establishing the trail running on the abandoned rail line. The Hollow Oak Land Trust (HOLT) has led the effort to protect the corridor along the stream and trail. Another group – the Montour Watershed Alliance – works on watershed-wide issues for Montour Run. Together, these groups are coordinating efforts to provide regional recreational opportunities as well as to protect the natural values and functions of the stream and watershed.

In other locations, greenways may be pieced together from patches of woodland, utility right-of-ways, school grounds, industrial sites and a miscellaneous other grounds. Put together these individual “greenspaces” can become a greenway. The concept is still the same although the emphasis may be different. Terrain may allow only a simple walking trail and the corridor may not provide direct protection to a stream. However, management of the corridor can provide functional value for wildlife, birds, and native plants. The Seldom Seen Greenway in Beechview and Mt. Washington is an example of an urban greenway that takes advantage of difficult terrain and undeveloped patches to build a ribbon of open space.

The larger and more continuous the greenway, the more functions and uses it may provide. By linking together natural areas, parks, and other public properties, the conservation value of the greenway corridor can be many times compounded. Likewise, linking together destinations – towns, parks, boating accesses, regional trails – enhances the aesthetic and functional value for those who use the corridors.

In Upper St. Clair, we have opportunities to establish a number of greenways. The Chartiers Creek corridor, the Mayview Spur of the Montour line from Hendersonville, the Ravine Park corridor, and the McLaughlin Run corridor are some of the possibilities for large greenways that could combine numerous uses with high conservation values. Also, all these potential greenways would extend outside of the township, several outside of Allegheny County, and create regional linkages.

CLS sees the tremendous opportunity for Upper St. Clair residents and people throughout our region. We will promote greenways, natural areas, and open space as the foundations for conservation of our living natural heritage as well as for building a sense of community in our township and region. We will encourage the township to plan for greenways. We encourage all of our members to seek out more information on greenways and their conservation value. Please speak with your neighbors and ask the township to begin planning for greenways.

Additional information source: Creating Connections, The Pennsylvania Greenways and Trails How-To Manual, The Pennsylvania Greenways Partnership, 1998

Economic Benefits of Greenways

Real Property Values

Many studies demonstrate that parks, greenways and trails increase nearby property values. In turn, increased property values can increase local tax revenues and help offset greenway acquisition costs.

Expenditures by Residents

Spending by local residents on greenway related activities helps support recreation oriented businesses and employment, as well as other businesses which are patronized by greenway and trail users.


Greenways are often major tourist attractions which generate expenditures on lodging, food, and recreation oriented services. Greenways also help improve the overall appeal of a community to perspective tourists and new residents.

Corporate Relocation

Evidence shows that the quality of life or a community is an increasingly important factor in corporate relocation decisions. Greenways are often cited as important contributors to quality of life.

Public Cost Reduction

The conservation of rivers, trails, and greenways can help local governments and other public agencies reduce costs resulting from flooding and other hazards.

Intrinsic Value

While greenways have many economic benefits it is important to remember the intrinsic environmental and recreation value of preserving rivers, trails and other open space corridors.

Adapted from: Economic Impacts on Protecting Rivers, Trails, and Greenway Corridors, National Park Service, 1990.