Collapsing roads in and around Riverview Park are more a result of the land’s ecology and overbrowsing deer than politics.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Schaefer

Visitors to Riverview Park take note of collapsing roads and suggest that they are the result of politics. Without a doubt, all city parks are desperately in need of capital and maintenance. Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC) estimated that for all Pittsburgh parks, there is “a minimum $400 million capital project backlog, combined with an annual maintenance deficit of $13 million.” However, the roads collapsing in Riverview are not the result of election politics.

Riverview is a park because the land was not deemed to be “build-able.” Steep topography, the nature of the soil and rock, numerous natural springs, and deteriorated water and sewer lines along with added rainfall from climate change mean that it’s no simple feat to identify exact causes and solutions for each landslide.

One clear and obvious cause of the collapsing roads, and a huge threat to the health of Riverview Park, is the ecology of the park, especially erosion. Soil is washing out of the park every time it rains, because there is nothing to hold it in place. Once the soil is gone, so go the roads.

There are solutions that don’t require millions of dollars. Riverview is grossly over-browsed by white-tailed deer. The deer have eaten every plant available, leaving little to hold the soil in place. They’ve completely removed the shrub layer, tree seedlings, and native plants, leaving only invasive plants (which deer do not eat) to fill the gap. Native plants and trees cannot withstand the combination assault of overbrowsing deer and invasive plant competition. Large trees are falling victim to massive erosion as their roots become exposed and there is little to hold them. The cycle of soil, tree, and plant loss due to erosion is getting worse with each rainfall. On your next visit, look into the forest and note how few plants are growing. Compare what you see in Riverview to a county park. 

PWSA hired experts to study the issue because the water and soil leaving the park end up in Woods Run, on its way from the highest point in the city to the lowest, the Ohio River. In addition to the rain gardens already installed, the experts recommended two strategies to address erosion: cull the deer and/or or fence in the park. On a recent visit to Riverview, Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) officers offered to work with city residents to create a special bow hunting district in the park and/or adjacent wooded areas. They reported on the successes working with the County and nearby municipalities.  

Creating a process and addressing concerns would not be easy, but an effort to reduce the impact of overbrowsing would greatly benefit the park as well as adjacent communities. What do you think? Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts:  Nancy.Schaefer@pittsburghpa.gov.

Nancy Schaefer is a City of Pittsburgh Park Ranger in the Northside’s Riverview Park.

Related posts:

Better signage, wetlands wanted at Riverview Park’s Grand Ave. entrance

PWSA hosts meeting to address stormwater management in Riverview Park

Northside Chronicle Town Hall Subscription